‘He lost hope’: the 12-year-old Syrian refugee who works as a mechanic

Children in conflicts, Education funding

Soulayma Mardam addresses the education side event in London 

The moving story of a 12-year-old boy who hasn’t been at school for three years and now works as a mechanic was highlighted today by one of A World at School’s network of Global Youth Ambassadors.

Soulayma Mardam from Lebanon made an impassioned plea for all Syrian refugee children to be given the basic human right of a decent education.

Her message was delivered at an education side event at today’s civil society section of the Supporting Syria and the Region conference in London. World leaders will meet tomorrow to address the gaps in funding for humanitarian aid – including education.

Earlier in the day, Soulayma delivered hand-printed messages from young Syrian refugees, calling for education for every girl and boy affected by the conflict.

Here is what she said at the education event:

Good afternoon,

My name is Soulayma and I am a Global Youth Ambassador for A World at School in Lebanon.

In January we organised a mobile movie contest on the right to education in the country. The movie that won the competition introduced us to 12-year-old Abdelsalam, a boy from Syria who works as a mechanic in southern Lebanon.

Abdelsalam has been out of school for three years and lost hope in the future. Every day he wakes up, gets dressed and goes to work. While on his way to the mechanic shop he meets children of his age going to school.

When they come back from school, they tell him about what they learned and the games they played.

Watch a film about Abdelsalam

What makes Abdelsalam’s portrayal heartbreaking is that this young boy talks about his future in the past. He says that his wish would be to go to school but that it is not possible anymore and that the current circumstances make him give up on his dream: to become a teacher and teach the children of Syria.

Abdelsalam is only one of the many children who are at the heart of the Syrian crisis. More than 200,000 children are out of school in Lebanon. The more children are out of school, the more they get further away from their hopes and ambitions.

Street children interviewed for another movie broadcast during our contest said they feel no expectation about their future, giving up on hope while you would expect young children of that age to have their heads full of dreams. These kids had no idea of what they would like to become.

Education experts and advocates are warning that a lack of funding may leave one million Syrian children in the region out of school. There is a need for urgent action from world leaders this week to commit at least $1.4 billion to ensure all children and young people affected by the conflict are enrolled in school and learning this year.

Education is also a protection matter. Going to school reduces the risk of child labour, early marriage, exploitation and extremism.

But it is not only about getting access to school but also about quality education. I truly think that one of the objectives of education in times of crisis should be to provide children not only with basic literacy and numeracy, which is of utmost importance, but also with lifelong skills that would keep them engaged with their environment and prepared for tomorrow’s challenges.

Tomorrow, at the conference, I want to see:

  • Governments commit $1.4 billion to make sure that every child affected by this conflict can go to school in September
  • Funding commitments that are long-term and predictable so that governments and organisations can plan for the future
  • That the voices of individual children and young people are at the forefront of everyone’s minds

No child should be like Abdelsalam. No child should see their future in the past. Thank you.

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