Abu Dhabi schoolchildren taught about humanitarian crises by former UN official

Children at Cranleigh School were on Monday given a lesson in giving – and giving effectively – by a world leader in the field of humanitarian aid.

Sir John Holmes speaks on humanitarian assistance, at Cranleigh Abu Dhabi on Monday. Courtesy Julian John / Cranleigh Abu Dhabi
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ABU DHABI // Children at Cranleigh School were on Monday given a lesson in giving – and giving effectively – by a world leader in the field of humanitarian aid.

Sir John Holmes, director of the Ditchley Foundation in the UK and a former United Nations undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, addressed the pupils as part of the school’s Open Minds programme.

He was joined in the discussion by the Editor-in-Chief of The National, Mohammed Al Otaiba.

“It’s hard to be optimistic in this region at the moment,” said Sir John at the event, which was jointly hosted with the Oxbridge Society of the UAE.

“I’m trying to explain to the audience how the humanitarian system works, where the money comes from, where it goes, who gives it out and what principles it’s based on, and relate it to what’s happening in the Middle East so people can better understand what humanitarian assistance really means.

“People talk about it rather superficially without understanding how it all fits together.”

Sir John called the Syrian situation, in terms of scale and duration, the largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.

“There are huge numbers of people now refugees from Syria and even more internally displaced,” he said.

“There are more than 4 million refugees, 10 million in need of food aid, and the situation is getting worse.

“It’s extremely hard to reach and find people and help them. There is a system that is struggling to keep up with the demand and isn’t being funded by the international community as it should be, so this is a huge problem.”

Sir John said the international system was in crisis trying to deal with regional turmoil.

“We have Yemen, which is a huge humanitarian crisis and an increasing one,” he said. “In northern Iraq, there are huge needs and difficulties in meeting them, too.

“We need to keep reminding people of the importance of these humanitarian needs and the importance of trying to settle crises and bring them to an end, if possible.”

Cranleigh headmaster Brendan Law said: “It has always been our intention to provide our pupils, their families and the wider local community with exposure to a broad range of critical thinking, from arts and sport to current and environmental issues.”

cmalek@thenational.ae