February 10, 2017

"We have to give hope to Syrian refugee children - because the future is theirs and not ours"

Syrian students using a tablet supplied by Theirworld at a double-shift school in Mount Lebanon

Theirworld/Anthony Achkar

Sarah Brown

President, Theirworld

In the latest episode of her Better Angels podcast, Theirworld President Sarah Brown talks to politicians and young people about the challenges of educating Syrian refugee children.

When families flee from war, their first priorities are food and shelter. But very quickly the thoughts of refugees turn to education for their children.

School keeps them safe. It gives them a purpose and hope for the future. But how do you get hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugee children into classrooms in neighbouring countries?

Sarah Brown explores the subject - and how big problems can be solved through campaigning and partnerships - in the latest episode of her Better Angels podcast. 

Elias Bou Saab was Lebanon's education minister for three years until the end of 2016 and continues to be  a senior adviser on refugee education 

"I myself was a refugee once. I went to Syria after a war in Lebanon. I stayed one entire year without school. SoI know what it means," he tells Sarah. 

On the massive task of providing education for 450,000 Syrian refugees, Bou Saab says: "The biggest nightmare would be if the international community decides one day to drop this project. To stop supporting it.

Sarah talks to former Lebanese education minister Elias Bou Saab

Theirworld

"These children, without what we are doing, they will remain on the street without hope, without education. They become a big challenge not just for Lebanon region but for the international community in the future. 

"It is our obligation to do everything we can ... and bring in hope for these children because the future is theirs and not ours. If we don't help, we will regret it."

Those views are echoed by Nour - a 14-year-old Syrian refugee whose brother was killed on his way to school. She was out of school for a year in Syria and two years in Lebanon.

“I am happy because I am in school again," she says. “If I were not given the chance to go to back to school nothing would be important for me.

“Education gives me hope because I will become stronger. If I continue my education I will have the best future."

Weded Antawi is a young Palestinian computer science student in Beirut - and a Global Youth Ambassador for Theirworld. She tells Sarah how she spoke to many Syrian refugees while doing volunteer work. 

Wedad Antawi and othe rGlobal Youth Ambassadors with Sarah during a trip to Lebanon

Theirworld

She said: "Some said 'I cannot go to school because they are not available like public schools' and others said 'I am a girl, so I am not allowed to study.' Especially Syrian refugees from many villages in Syria.

"There's people from villages (who) think that girls shouldn't go to school, because they know that if she go to school and get skills, get a job, she will be equal to man."

Lebanon has employed a double-shift system - where local and Syrian children can use the same classrooms at different times of the day.

Justin van Fleet, chief adviser at Theirworld and Director of the Education Commission, explains: "By incorporating these young people into the school systems, they're no longer on the streets.

"You're giving them more opportunities for them and their families, they're no longer as vulnerable to trafficking, to child labour, to being exploited in a variety of different ways."

On the influence that campaigning - such as Theirworld's #UpForSchool Petition - can have on politicians and international donors, he says: "You can have all of the good will in the world with these new ways of funding education and getting plans in place and helping deliver the right to education - but unless there's a public outcry of support or of outrage for lack of action, none of this possible. "

Elias Bou Saab, left, with Christianos Stylianides and Sarah Brown

Theirworld

Christo Stylianides - the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management - tells Sarah about a powerful moment for him in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley two years ago.

He met a single mother with five children who had just arrived from Syria and been given food, shelter and clothing.

He tells how the woman then said: "Commissioner thank you for all of this but my children need hope. Please give us education." 

Stylianides adds: "For me it was the most inspiring occasion and through this and many others in many areas, I think it is the reason why I decided to increase our budget for education emergencies four times."

Sarah's other guest is Julia Gillard - former prime minister of Australia and Board Chair of the Global Partnership for Education

She says: "When you can see change on the ground - more schools, more children in schools, better-qualified, better-trained teachers - and all of that coming together in this special combination that creates learning, then it's a magical moment. 

"But when you look and see so much unmet need, then the weight and the frustration and the need to keep pushing for change is with you and with you incredibly strongly."

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Sarah talks to politicians, entertainers, activists and world leaders about their inspiration, their hopes and their dreams at a time of enormous international upheaval.

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