In the third in a series of blogs from the UN General Assembly Steve Lewis reports from the New York launch of Genesis, the world famous photography exhibition.

Sebastiao Salgado
Salgado’s photos show diversity and fragility
Credit : Sebastiao Salgado

As I entered the International Centre of Photography last night I was blown away by the powerful black and white photographs of the natural world, taken by the Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado. These pictures pay tribute to life on the planet and show the diversity of the existing populations and environment. In the week that global leaders are meeting in the UN to debate Climate Change and the future of global development efforts the photos shout out the need to embrace the environment and build an education system that teaches respect for nature and diversity.

What a privilege, not only to be able to see the exhibition, but to listen to Salgado explain why he believes education for all can be transformational for individuals and societies. “Taking these photos for the Genesis exhibition changed my life”, he said, “The photos show the existence of culture, of resilience, of diversity. The world is not one-dimensional. We need to promote education systems that promote these same values. Education is not only to teach skills but must also teach values.”

The event, organised by the Global Campaign for Education (GCE), had high level speakers from UN institutions such as UNICEF and UNESCO. These institutions and supportive member states such as Denmark and Brazil are part of the current discussions over what will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when they run out at the end of 2015. The MDG period saw significant steps forward for primary education, with a huge increase in primary enrolment rates, especially of girls around the world. Even so, with only a year to go, 58 million children are still out of school.

These photos show us the world is beautiful, but also fragile” said Omar Abdi from UNICEF. “That is the same with our children… Education can build resilience. It is the way to break the generational cycle of poverty. The pictures have the power to open our eyes, to see the world in a different way, and that is what good education can do too.”

Salgado speaks to crowd
Sebastiao Salgado speaks to the crowd
Credit – Steve Lewis/RESULTS

I chatted afterwards with members of the panel as we admired the photos, among them Alice Albright, Chief Executive of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). It was good to hear her say how much she valued speaking on the RESULTS global conference call for Grassroots members a few months ago. The call had been heard simultaneously in Canada, Australia, the UK and USA. She thanked RESULTS members for the support they had given in the build up to the successful GPE donor conference that took place in June.

As I left the event I reflected that in the UK now, global education is promoted and supported, but often as a means to build an educated workforce, to drive economic growth. Education will do that of course, but it needs to be more than that. As Salgado said, “where it’s delivered well, there is no force more transformational than the power of education. Education for all needs to be a core part of the next set of development goals – for the rights of the child, for peace, and for building respect. Respect for each other, but also respect for this small planet we live upon.”

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Opinions given are those of the author and not necessarily those of RESULTS UK