Syrian refugee children’s education must continue

Sudeshna Sarkar
Filed on December 19, 2013
Syrian refugee children’s education must continue

Emirates Jordanian Camp funded by the UAE and run by the UAE Red Crescent houses more than 3,000 refugees.

Hafez, in his early 30s, used to be a schoolteacher in Syria before the civil war broke out. He has lost his home and most of his possessions as he fled to Jordan before the borders were closed.

Syrian refugee children’s education must continue (/assets/oldimages/refugees1712.jpg)

Hafez is lucky to be alive. Over 300,000 people have died, a third of them due to the violence and the rest due to chronic diseases as medical services broke down with 60 per cent hospitals destroyed or damaged and nearly 15,000 doctors fleeing the country.

He is also lucky to have his profession. Hafez is still teaching math, though now in an extraordinary school.

It’s the makeshift but determined school running at the Emirates Jordanian Camp, the camp for refugees funded by the UAE and run by the UAE Red Crescent in collaboration with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

There are over 554,000 identified Syrian refugees in Jordan. The Zaatari camp, housing between 90,000 to 120,000 people, is the largest — effectively the fourth largest city in Jordan. But the Emirates Jordanian Camp, though it at present houses a far more modest number of 3,000, is remarkable for one thing.

It focuses on accommodating vulnerable women, widows and children with special needs and/or disabilities, says Diana Al-Hanakta, NRC’s Dubai-based manager for its Gulf office, who recently conducted a two-day field mission to the two camps.

Syrian refugee children’s education must continue (/assets/oldimages/refugee1712a.jpg)

As the war stretches to its third year with no sign of peace, there is an added emphasis on running classrooms in the camps so that the children, who have been out of school for a protracted period, can return to formal schooling when they get the chance to do so.

According to the British government’s Department for International Development that has launched a funding programme for Syrian children with Unicef, there is a threat of an entire generation becoming lost. There are over 1 million children among the refugees; nearly another million can’t access basic education.

In the two Jordan camps, NRC is running an education programme with the help of Unicef and supported by Jordan’s education ministry.

“NRC hosts catch-up classes for children aged between seven and 15,” says Al-Hanakta. “Several facilities set up in the Emirates Jordanian Camp are designed especially for children with special needs. For example, schools are set up in a way that children in wheelchairs can access their classrooms easily.”

The camp schools have a Jordanian curriculum. The teachers are both Jordanian and Syrian, drawing on qualified camp residents to teach in the classrooms.

“It helps the refugees earn a living as well,” Al-Hanakta says.

Hafez is part of this initiative.

“Due to the duration of the war, long-term solutions are being implemented,” Al-Hanakta adds. “Such as employing residing refugees in the camps to teach at the schools and allowing children to catch up on the classes they have missed.”

NRC also runs a Youth Training Centre. It provides students life skills and leadership training to ensure they acquire traits that can be useful, both in the camp and upon their return to Syria.

As the refugees continue to face harsh living conditions, with little hope that they would be able to return to their homeland soon, NRC has also started an urbanisation programme to integrate those living outside camps into Jordanian society.

The programme works this way: Officials find an unfinished residence within the Jordanian community. It is then completed against a fee, allowing free accommodation for a refugee family for a year at least.

Al-Hanakta says the pilot project has been a success with nearly 1,000 families placed with local host families.

“The benefit is safety for refugees with better living conditions, and a sense of normal day-to-day life,” she explains. “It also allows refugees to work and earn a living to support their families.”

As winter sets in, relief agencies are concerned with stepping up a winterisation programme. Heaters and blankets are needed while old tents are being replaced with new trailers. Also needed are food, non-food items and medical care.

Different donors fund different camps and services. The GCC countries are the largest donors.

“A terrible winter is on the way,” the EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian and Crisis Response recently said.

Syria saw the worst harvest this year in three decades as people were unable to cultivate their fields. Save the Children estimates one in five Syrian families go without food seven days each month. There are 6.5 million internally displaced people in Syria while 2.5 million remain beyond the reach of humanitarian aid.

In comparison to the suffering inside Syria, in the Jordan camps there is a feeling of hope and security despite the losses.

Mona, a young Syrian mother of two, lives in a trailer in the Emirates Jordanian camp. It is devastating in Syria, she says, carrying a child in her arms. It is safer in the camp.

I am praying that one day we can return safely to our homeland, she says. I am praying that we are able to restart our lives.

(The names of the refugees have been withheld to protect their identities.)

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