“We include school and education in our humanitarian work from day one,” says Annelies Ollieuz, NRC’s global education manager. She admits, however, that this has not always been easy.

At NRC, education is as important to us as food distribution, shelter, camp management, counselling or legal aid. This is unique.

“Over the years, it has been a struggle to gain acceptance for our focus on education right from the very beginning of a crisis. Not all donors or local governments understand the importance of this. It’s easy for them to say: ‘We’ll deal with schooling afterwards’.”

Annelies Ollieuz, 42, has been our education leader for two years. She’s originally from Belgium but moved to Norway 18 years ago. A social worker with a PhD in social anthropology, Annelies has never been a teacher, but has worked with education throughout her career. For many years, she worked in the field.

“I was in an emergency response team travelling from crisis to crisis and spent 300 days a year out in the field, often deployed on short notice. The work I did was mostly coordination. My job was either to set up or to strengthen the mechanism coordinating the entire crisis response, always in cooperation with local authorities.” Today, she works at our head office in Oslo.

Annelies Oulliez, former NORCAP education in emergencies expert. She travelled from crisis to crisis. “I was working abroad 300 days a year, often leaving at short notice,” she says. Photo: Eirik Christophersen/NORCAP

The importance of school

We are the only aid organisation to have specialised in working to give help and protection to displaced people. In addition, we help people living in the areas where displaced people and refugees settle. By also supporting pre-existing communities, we avoid creating conflict when they see what we do for the refugees.

Today, we are active in 30 countries, and in total, we employ about 14,000 people. Several thousand of these work in educational activities. It is impossible for Ollieuz to know how many people she is working with at any given moment.

“Why is it so important to focus on education at the very beginning of a crisis?”

“There are several reasons for that. First and foremost, it’s because we’re talking about youth and children’s futures. We also know that the longer a child is kept out of school, the less chance he or she has of returning. For this reason, limiting time away from school is incredibly important.

War creates chaos. From a child psychology perspective, it is important that all children have some routine to their lives. If children living in a warzone cannot go to school, the routine disappears, and they will have trouble recovering from the crisis,” says Ollieuz.

War causes traumatised kids

We have specialised in helping traumatised children, through a collaboration with UiT, the Arctic University of Norway, and professor in pedagogical psychology Jon Håkon Schultz. This school programme is called “better learning”. Through simple exercises, for example breathing exercises, the teachers help the kids help themselves. The programme has been a great success.