Post a school photo on your social media channels and tag #emergencylessons in support of Yaroslav and Nastya.

An astronaut, actors, TV personalities, a Snapchat superstar and a professional swimmer are among those who are lending their voice to #EmergencyLessons, a project designed to highlight the importance of education for children affected by emergencies, jointly launched today by The European Union and UNICEF.

Ireland is one of seven countries leading this high-level international initiative, which is targeted at some 20 million Europeans under the age of 25.

Other groups from Greece, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom are also taking part in the social media-driven public awareness campaign that will inspire young Europeans here and abroad to raise their voices on behalf of the millions of children and adolescents whose education has been interrupted by emergencies.

The #EmergencyLessons campaign draws on the real-life experiences of children living through emergencies in countries like Nepal, Guinea, Iraq and Ukraine. Their personal stories about the extraordinary lengths they go to obtain an education demonstrate why children can and must continue to learn during crisis. Over the next seven months, these stories will be shared on social media through #EmergencyLessons.

This is the first of these touching stories, featuring Yaroslav and Nastya from Ukraine, will be released on Youtube today. Each of the seven films will include a social media call to action – Yaroslav and Nastya’s ‘ask’ is that you share an old school photo, accompanied by the #EmergencyLessons.

“Young people understand better than anyone how important education is to their lives today and to their futures. Who knows better than they that their tomorrows depend on what they learn today? Who, better than today’s youth, can demand that the world provides them with the skills they will need to build a better world? Their future, and ours, depends on it,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.

Nearly one in four of the world’s school-aged children – 462 million – now lives in 35 countries affected by crises, including an estimated 75 million children who are in desperate need of educational support.

Apart from missing out on education, and its beneficial effects, out of school children are more vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and recruitment by armed forces. Schools provide a safe haven where children can be protected from these threats.

The campaign also celebrates the other benefits of going to school – the friends made, the teachers who support children through trauma, the stability found in the routine of attending classes. “Here in Europe, we tend to take school for granted, and forget what a vital part of life it is to children, especially when everything else around them is collapsing,” said EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides.

“We hope this campaign will better help Europeans understand why, when disaster strikes, opportunities to learn are just as important as access to food, water, vaccines and shelter.”

UNICEF Ireland Executive Director Peter Power explained why it is necessary to focus on education: “Just 2% of humanitarian aid globally is channelled into education, but the benefits of educating a child in emergency go far beyond equipping people to earn a living - though that is of crucial importance - education has unexpected benefits like improving health outcomes and helping girls avoid child marriage. Most of us are lucky enough to remember our schooldays fondly – that is because we benefitted from a top class education system. That is something that must be made available to children everywhere.”

Representing Ireland in this ambitious campaign, National Ambassador Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (16) and Digital Ambassador James Kavanagh (26). They will travel to see UNICEF and the European Union’s operations in earthquake-ravaged Nepal, one year after natural disaster struck – killing 9,000 people, 3,000 of them children.

National Ambassador Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (16) is an Irish Actor and singer/songwriter from Co. Wicklow. The Transition Year student starred alongside Jack Reynor (Transformers), Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones) and Maria Doyle-Kennedy (The Commitments) in Sing St, written and directed by John Carney of Once fame. When the film was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, Ferdia was listed as one of the festival ‘up and comers’ to watch for 2016.

Digital Ambassador James Kavanagh (26) is a social media professional from Dublin, and co-founder of start-up food company Currabinny. James is best known for his Snapchats – and for the work he does to raise awareness around autism, mental health, feminism and bullying.

A number of other celebrities are lending their support to #EmergencyLessons, such as Italian European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, Slovenian Basketball player Boštjan Nachbar, Hungarian news presenter and media personality Kriszta D. Tóth, and Slovakian dancer Jaro Bekr.

About the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) The European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) funds relief operations for victims of natural disasters and conflicts worldwide. Aid is provided impartially, directly to people in need, without discrimination of their race, ethnic group, religion, gender, age, nationality or political affiliation. To find out more about the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), go to http://ec.europa.eu/echo/index_en

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