IN SYRIA, INNOVATIVE NEW APPROACHES GET CHILDREN BACK TO SCHOOL, BACK TO THE SAFETY AND PROMISE OF AN EDUCATION, AND BACK ON TRACK FOR A BRIGHTER FUTURE
Conflict is ripping Syria apart. It’s taking lives, uprooting families and leaving millions of girls and boys behind.
Efforts are underway to get these children back to learning. With the financial support of Education Cannot Wait, a global fund for education in crisis hosted by UNICEF, a broad coalition of frontlines heroes, international partners and donors are joining forces to address the pressing humanitarian crisis that has left 2.1 million children out of school and 1.3 million at risk of dropping out.
HOPE FOR MORNING STAR
The children of Syria’s conflict have faces and names. One of these children is a bright 10-year-old boy named Tarek. The name means ‘Morning Star,’ a thoughtful designation in a place where dreams have been shattered for an entire generation.
Tarek has lived his life surrounded by conflict and violence. The boy who loved math and was an outgoing child when he was young, comes from the Al-Waer neighbourhood in the historic city of Homs, an area heavily affected by violence.
When he was six, a bullet ripped through Tarek’s room while he was sleeping. The trauma – and the unspeakable horror of seeing his father injured and losing other family members – left Tarek with a speech impediment.
Without support, Tarek likely would have fallen through the cracks.
“I did not have any friends and other children were making fun of me because of stuttering,” said Tarek. “I was always at home alone.”
With support from a 2-year US$15 million Education Cannot Wait initial investment launched in 2017, UNICEF partnered with international and local NGOs to create an educational programme to get children like Tarek back to learning.
In all, some 75,693 children have already been reached with back-to-learning campaigns. The programme reinforces the value of education and has provided psychosocial support for children like Tarek to get back on track.
Tarek enrolled in catch-up classes in math, Arabic and English, and is also attending group and private counseling sessions with the school’s counselor, Miss Nour. The counselor worked with Tarek to improve his self-esteem and decrease his anxiety, which sometimes made it difficult for Tarek to see the difference between dreams and reality.
“[The counseling sessions] were one of the things I loved the most [about the programme],” said Tarek.
The boy now has “a lot of friends” and is excelling in his math studies.
Mohammad is another victim of this senseless conflict that risked falling behind. He was forced to flee from his home town of Hama when he was just nine. Now 14, the highly gifted boy was seeing his grades slip.
“I used to be in the first place in my classes from grade 1 to grade 6, but changing residence had affected me,” said Mohammad.
With their home in Hama totally destroyed, Mohammad’s parents have limited resources to pay for school tuition. Determined to “make up the gap” anyway, Mohammad began studying during the night to regain his grades, and signed up for a remedial education programme sponsored through the Education Cannot Wait initial investment.
“The timing of remedial classes was perfect as it prepared us to start formal school,” said Mohammad. During the programme, catch-up classes in core subjects were combined with group activities and counseling sessions to bolster students’ psychological wellbeing and teach study skills.
With this much-needed support, Mohammad significantly improved his grades, especially in English and French. He is now placed second in his class and has hatched plans to become a doctor one day. “This year, I’m trying hard to get full marks.”
LEAVING NO ONE BEHIND
Due to renewed violence, 1.6 million people were displaced across Syria, with close to half a million people displaced in Northwest Syria in the first six months of 2018, including an estimated 150,000 children. Across Northeast Syria during 2018, 80,817 people were displaced, including 25,295 school-aged children.
The first response investment was in response to the 2017 displacement crisis across the north of Syria, which is being exacerbated by the continued flow of Internally Displaced People into the area. To respond to the escalation of the crisis in these areas, Education Cannot Wait announced a 12-month US$3 million First Emergency Response allocation to meet the most pressing needs and build on the Fund’s initial investment.
The ongoing crisis means teachers aren’t getting paid, and girls and children with disabilities face additional barriers to go to school.
Thanks to the First Emergency Response, 202 teachers have already received incentives to teach, with plans to reach a total of 600 by the end of the programme. Schools have received heaters and fuel to keep children warm during the bitterly cold winter months. Girls and boys are being transported to school, including children with disabilities.
The needs are still great. As the investment scales-up and accelerates its support, 41 schools will be rehabilitated including 430 classrooms, 500 teachers will receive advanced training and 20,000 children will receive learning materials including textbooks.
For displaced girls like seven-year-old Hala, the combination of counseling, remedial classes, and new learning opportunities means hope for a brighter future. Hala was out of school for an entire year. Now she’s back to learning and is one of the best students in her class.
“I love school more than my home. Here, I play with my friends. I study and learn Arabic, English and math. I have a dream of becoming a doctor so that I can treat children,” said Hala.