Every year, several Chester schools participate in the Send My Friend To School campaign.
It is a programme that highlights the plight of children across the world who can’t access education.
And the numbers are astonishing.
Over 260 million children across the world are not in education. I’ll repeat that in case you didn’t read it right: two hundred and sixty million children who don’t go to school.
The reasons vary but when I visit local schools it is our children who have learned what these are and it is the children who educate me.
Girls have it particularly bad: in too many countries, girls are prevented from accessing education because of ‘cultural’ beliefs that girls should stay at home and not go to school. So they remain uneducated. Such entrenched sexist traditions are simply unacceptable wherever they are.
Natural disasters prevent schools opening. If, after an earthquake, folk are struggling to survive then building shelters and securing food and water supplies will naturally be top priority. But that still means youngster miss out on months or years of schooling.
In some families, poverty is so great that children have to work as soon as they are able. On my school visits I recounted to Chester children how, on a recent visit to Ethiopia, our car had to stop while a little boy, of primary school age – the same age as the children I was talking to – drove a herd of goats across the road in front of us.
And of course, wars and conflict drive people away from home and children away from school. I recently met the Chester City of Sanctuary group who meet at the Wesleyan Centre to plan work to make Chester more welcoming to refugees. That includes getting the refugee children back into education. And in doing so they bring fresh experiences and perspectives that enrich us all.
Send My Friend To School is powerful because it is the children of Chester themselves who are the advocates for change. They are supported of course by inspirational teachers, like Roz Artist at Cherry Grove Primary, Charlotte Gill at Grosvenor Park Primary, and Karen Smailes at Upton High.
They give our children an understanding of the wider world, and a belief that children everywhere are equal, with the same needs and the same hopes and fears. The world is a better place for the Send My Friend programme. Now we just need to do something about it, to make education a right for every child everywhere.