NOT LOST AND
Syrian children are fighting for their future with education
Six years into the armed conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic, the situation continues to deteriorate.
Over 5 million Syrians have taken refuge in the five neighbouring countries - Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, nearly half of them are children.
An entire generation of Syrian children and youth are living through conflict and displacement. For many of them, this is the only life that they have experienced. They are on the verge of becoming a lost generation.
Despite what they have experienced, young Syrians are not giving up on their dreams. Supporting their education is proving to be one way to help them heal, learn and thrive.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) supports the No Lost Generation initiative: an ambitious commitment to action by humanitarians, donors and policy to support children and youth affected by the Syria and Iraq crises. IOM supports young Syrians through transportation to school, school administrative support and school rehabilitation.
An adult living in the body of a young boy, 13-year-old Waseem's experiences in Syria have forced him to mature beyond his years. Originally from a small town in Aleppo where he lived with his parents and six siblings, he remembers the early days of the conflict when it reached to his home.
"I was sleeping when a loud explosion woke me up. I went outside to see what had happened. When I opened the door that's when I saw a dead child on the street and the plane circling in the air. All of a sudden it dropped a bomb near our house killing my neighbour," he recounted.
“It wasn’t long before my school was bombed. After that none of us could go to school anymore so we stayed out on the streets because we had nothing to do but we were also scared of being bombed next.”
With no school, Waseem worked as a child labourer for nearly a year selling food like popcorn to provide for his family. In 2016, child labour was reported in over 70% of Syria's sub-districts.
“We stayed in our home for some time. As the war went on it became harder to find things like food and petrol. People started to use benzene to fuel their cars because it was all that was available.”
“One day a plane dropped a bomb that hit our building and blew up the store on the first floor, which had caches of benzene and it all caught fire. My dad was on the balcony when the building collapsed. He fell and burned to death. I was taken to the hospital to treat the open wound on my hand but the hospital had almost no supplies. They had to stitch my hand without anesthetics.”
“I saw a lot of children become orphans during that time. I just got used to seeing my family and friends die,” said Waseem calmly and unnerved by what he was recounting.
After coming to Turkey with his family in 2013, he worked for nearly three years in a local bakery to help make ends meet. Nearly half of all refugee families from Syria in the region rely on income from child labour.
“At first I started cleaning the floors and helping to keep the place clean but slowly they started teaching me how to bake bread and by the end I was working as a professional baker. Sometimes I would even bake at home for my mom and brothers and sisters. They loved my pizza bread!”
Waseem is now enrolled in free education. He has a chance to finish his studies alongside thousands of other refugee children who have had their studies interrupted by the ongoing conflict.
Even though he is now beginning to get his childhood back on track, he does not feel at home in Turkey.
"I might be here in Turkey but my heart still lies in Syria where I left it behind. I just can’t forget and move on from what is happening there."
"I really like going to school. I like it even more now that I am going there on the school bus," said Ranin (right), a first grade student, who is happy having a badge with her photo on it.
Located 80 km from Amman, Jordan's Azrap Camp houses 53,901 people of whom 37% of them are school-age children. The camp area is almost desert with harsh weather all year round. In winter, temperatures can drop below zero degrees Celsius, and in summer they reach up to 45 degrees.
The schools in the camp are run by the Jordan Ministry of Education with the support of the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Regardless of the weather, children were walking up to two kilometres to school in all weathers. Because of overcrowding, girls and boys go to school at different times. Girls walked to school in the early morning, when it is extremely cold in winter, and boys walked there in the middle of the day, experiencing summer's highest temperatures.
Families were worried about letting their children walk such long distances, especially if they were not able to walk with them.
Nearly half of the people living with disabilities in Azrap Camp are children. Children with special needs are assisted by the escorts. One of the buses even has a special ramp to enable a children with reduced mobility to enter and exit the bus.
Youssuf (right) is one of the Syrian facilitators of the school transportation programme in Azrap Camp. Youssuf came to Jordan in September 2014. It is the first time that he works with children.
"This project is very useful for the camp as there are no cars or transportation, and before the project started children that live far from school used to walk for more than 30 minutes twice a day," said Youssuf.
Ahmed (above) has two daughters and three sons, one of whom was born in Azraq Camp. Three of his children go to school on IOM buses: Mahmoud, Leen and Safa.
"Before, the children faced a lot of difficulties trying to reach school. In winter, they had to walk a long way in the dust, in the cold and in the mud. In summer, they had to put up with extremely hot temperatures," explained Ahmed.
Like Youssuf, Ahmed works helping to get the children to school.
"Going to school by bus is something new for them. Sometimes the kids get too excited when they are getting on and don’t respect each others turns.
The children are special. Some like to go with one particular escort and will wait for this person's bus, so that they can go with him or her."
"I was a little lazy yesterday, so my friend Shaimaa offered me her notebook to help me with the answers.
Shaimaa is really good at languages but my favourite subject is maths."
Ruqayya, using her time on the bus to finish her homework.
Five prefab cabins surround a small concrete yard with a wire fence, which together make up Basirma Camp's high school for Syrian refugees. Basirma camp is located north of Erbil city in Iraq.
With extremely limited resources, the students dedication is the only motivation for the school manager, Luqman Mohammed Saeed, to keep the school running .
When Luqman (right) took over the school six months ago, he faced teaching staff shortages, almost no electricity and no technology equipment.
Luqman recruited teachers from the Syrian refugee population. He also convinced a local contractor at the camp to provide a few hours of free electricity to the school each day.
“It is still not sufficient but it is better now,” said Luqman.
Abbas Ibrahim (right) teaches geography and history.
“Today, we are studying volcanic eruptions as one factor in the process of mountain formation,” said Abbas.
Then, he turned to the students and asked, “Who can give an example of this type of mountain?”
“Mount Fuji in Japan!” replied one student.
“Jabal al-Tair Island mountains in Yemen!” said another.
Eight of the thirteen senior students have been admitted to universities in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
“This school offers a better future for these teenagers and protects many of them from dangers like early marriage and irregular migration,” said Abbas.