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Ensuring the right to education amidst the pandemic

07 May 2020

A group of people looking at a laptop screen together

In Molenbeek – a largely immigrant neighbourhood in Brussels, Belgium – a small start-up incubator is helping young people from low-income families to fulfil their right to education, a right guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

With the temporary shutdown of schools around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many students are continuing their schooling online from home. But what happens when a family doesn't have the resources to provide their children with this essential technology?

In Molenbeek, tech company MolenGeek has stepped in by providing laptops to underprivileged children and youth.

“We want to give young people a goal, perspectives, and hope for the future by making technology accessible and available to them,” says MolenGeek’s co-founder Ibrahim Ouassari, who is a self-trained IT entrepreneur, himself born and bred in Molenbeek.

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, MolenGeek called for donations from companies and individuals with spare laptops. They received over 600. With the support from the City of Brussels, the company disinfects, formats, updates and ultimately distributes the computers to children without one at home, so they start online learning. The high-tech start-up will also train teachers in digital tools for e-learning.

“Inequality is a major human rights challenge in Europe. With COVID-19, this has become even more visible,” said Birgit Van Hout, the Regional Representative for Europe of the UN Human Rights Office in Brussels. "But an initiative like MolenGeek also shows what is possible when people from the community actively participate in coming up with inclusive solutions. The creativity and resourcefulness is just amazing."

"We could make tangible human rights progress if countries around Europe would tap more into the knowledge and experience that exists in communities that have traditionally been left behind," she said. "This is what a people-centered approach is all about" congratulating MolenGeek, the City of Brussels and the businesses who donated hardware.