Education and Society - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:20 pm on 8th December 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Liberal Democrat 2:20 pm, 8th December 2017

My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Chartres, who is now a highly eminent personality on the Cross Benches. I note that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury is also surrounded by a huge number of right reverend Prelates, so we are surrounded by virtue—alas, not on this Back Bench at this moment, where I am almost by myself. My remarks will be perhaps a little less elegiac and more practical. I seek to discuss the use of education as a tool to help alter human behaviour in a way which will make an enormous difference to those who are influenced by it, because their state at the moment is so utterly desperate.

I recently had the pleasure of leading a second conference with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby in St George’s House, Windsor. Our first conference was on religious persecution and its impact on forced migration. Our second conference, which took place just the other day, led on from that, discussing religious persecution and forced migration to return and integration—a very difficult topic indeed. We were fortunate to have Canon Edmund Newell from Cumberland Lodge, who provided us with a wonderful background paper; LDS charities, with Elder Jeffrey Holland and Sister Sharon Eubank; Brigham Young University; Oxford University, with Dr Theodore Zeldin; and we were fortunate to have a number of eminent officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the US State Department.

This work sprang from your Lordships’ Select Committee on Sexual Violence in Conflict, of which both the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby and I had been members. Our focus was therefore very much on the plight of the Yazidis and others—now, sadly, the Rohingyas—who have been appallingly abused in monstrous ways that I cannot even bring myself to articulate today because they are so utterly repugnant. For our first conference we had the Prince of Yazidis himself, whose health is extremely fragile, and this time we had his grandson, Prince Diar.

We focused on three important points, and education came out as the hub of recovery potential. First, we talked about recovery post sexual violence and other violence; secondly, we talked about survival in an IDP camp and that sort of situation. We were distressed to discover that in both refugee camps and IDP settings—there are now 62 million-plus people in those situations, in remarkably few places in the world—there is no education provision by any aspect of the United Nations at all. Finally, we talked about the return, with perhaps the most poignant matter of return at the moment being the reconstruction of the library of Mosul.

We talked about recovery and about physical, mental and spiritual help. We pointed out in our report, which comes out next week, that there is no capability to worship in any form of IDP or refugee camp situation. There is no space, and there are no priests or leaders. In the secular United Nations world, there is no space for worship, yet people’s religion forms a critical part of their identity. I urge the most reverend Primate to think about that.

We also talked about the need for psychiatry and psychosocial support. We found that music and dance was particularly important and that the creative industries were absolutely vital to restoring a person. We noticed that in the IDP camps—particularly among the Yazidis—there were no families, as many of them had been destroyed. The parents had been killed in front of these poor survivors—these girls, boys and young people. Some had been burnt alive and some had been buried alive, so there was no family to look after the children. However, there was the possibility of music, dance, worship and healing through learning. Some of these dear survivors, the girls themselves, told us that what really made them feel better was an educational setting. If we could put them in an informal classroom with a teacher and a subject—it did not matter what it was; it could be chess, learning, music or anything—they suddenly began to feel that they were human again. We found that education offered huge possibilities for their recovery.

The charity that I chair, the AMAR International Charitable Foundation, will be 25 years old next week. We have looked after 10.5 million patients over those 25 years and, more importantly for this debate, we have had 5 million pupils, all of them in refugee or IDP camps, or hiding behind walls, in waste bins or at the back ends of streets. They are completely and utterly without hope. However, apart from physical health, food and shelter, education is their biggest deprivation.

I have a question for the most reverend Primate. He heads up the Anglican communion. Would he be willing to put his weight behind ensuring that the world knows that education in camps and in these awful settings—particularly religious education, incorporating, as it does, music, dancing, writing, singing and talking—should be an absolute and not merely an also-ran that gets no space at all in our secular society? Perhaps I may also ask him to put our strength, our support and our clear vision of who they are behind the Yazidis, who, as the UN has declared, are suffering genocide and will disappear if their religion—they are said to worship the Devil but they do not—is not recognised in the same way that almost every other faith globally is. Perhaps the Anglican Communion, of which I am a Back-Bencher, would be kind enough to help with that as well.