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Book Review: Journeys to School

Published: April 23, 2014

Eric Falt, Guest Blogger

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) designated April 23 as World Book Day to celebrate the importance of books and publishing. To recognize World Book Day 2014, Concordia Language Villages will post five book reviews during the next several weeks from a wide range of contributors. 

Book: Journeys to School
Published by: UNESCO / Transdev / Sipa    
Book, 180 pages, colour photographs
Format: 26.3 x 25 cm (Hardback)
2013, 978-92-3-001140-6

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Journeys to School is a book of stories. Stories about the lives of children across the world, striving against all odds for an education. It illustrates the difficulties that studies and statistics cannot capture and brings to life the courage and determination of young people in their quest for a better future. Despite the hardship visible in many of the photos, the book is uplifting and heart-warming.

Kids with courage in their satchels

It brings together photos from over 13 countries (not only developing countries) and chronicles the daily journeys of children who cross deserts, frozen tundra, rivers, mountainous terrain and poverty-stricken ghettos – on foot, on horseback or donkeys, on sleds, aboard boats, in wheelchairs – in pursuit of an education. In Libya, Amal, 11, has to watch out for landmines on her way to school. In Mexico, 10-year-old Patricia has to walk four hours through canyons, pine forests, and barbed-wire fences on her journey to class. In Thailand, Wai Wai Htun, a refugee child from Myanmar, gets picked up by rickshaw to attend lessons.

No child will be left behind

The overriding message of this book is that education must be inclusive if it is to accomplish its goals. Education is a universal human right and the marginalization of one undermines the whole. UNESCO reports that although access to education has improved in recent years, the world’s poor and marginalized citizens are often still excluded. As UNESCO’s Director-General explains “These images capture the extraordinary resolve of boys and girls to overcome all challenges – whether these concern gender, disability, location, ethnicity, conflict of natural disasters.” The poignant stories shared in Journeys to School remain testaments to the immense work our international community has yet to do.

From my five summers working at the Language Villages back in the 1980’s, I firmly believe that this book can inspire all the educators and villagers, and that its core message matches CLV’s goal “to prepare young people for responsible citizenship in the global community”.

Exhibition begets book

In fact, the book was born of a travelling exhibition of photos, with the same title, launched in New York by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Like the exhibition, it is an excellent example of a public-private project involving the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization and (UNESCO), VEOLIA TRANSDEV and SIPA Press. As well as the exhibition and the book, UNESCO also partnered with a movie On the Way to School produced by Winds Production and Wildbunch, based in the US. The movie has been distributed in 19 countries so far and has had an important public success in France, Italy and Japan in particular. Its release in the US has not yet been announced. 

About Guest Blogger Eric Falt

Eric Falt is the Assistant Director-General for External Relations and Public Information at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), based at its headquarters in Paris.

He oversees the work of the Organization in the political field, with Member States in particular, and coordinates activities geared towards civil society. He also guides the Organization’s communications and public information efforts.

From 2007 to 2010, he served as Director of the Outreach Division of the United Nations Department of Public Information in New York.

From 2002 to 2007, Mr. Falt was Director of Communications for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), based at its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.

Throughout the 1990s and until 2002, he served as Director of the UN Information Centre in Islamabad, Pakistan and in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations in Iraq, Haiti and Cambodia.

Before joining the United Nations, Eric Falt worked with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Chicago and in New York. 

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