How education gives hope and pride to Syrian children in refugee camps
Early childhood development, Education in emergencies, Refugees and internally displaced people, Right to education
When magician Dynamo decided to champion the cause of getting Syrian children into school, he saw the difference that URDA is making in their lives.
When TV magician Dynamo visited a refugee camp in Lebanon to see what life is like for Syrian children, they loved his tricks.
But there’s magic in the air every day when the youngsters are getting ready to go to school.
“The children are waiting with their bags ready to go. They are eager to attend every class and the extra-curricular activities,” said Alaa Kaddoura, a psychosocial support worker who helps children in Lebanese refugee camps.
“They are so eager to get an education. They are telling people they know their ABCs. They are really proud of themselves.”
Dynamo made an emotional and powerful film about the plight of the Syrian kids when he went to camps in the Bekaa Valley as part of Theirworld’s #YouPromised campaign.
The British illusionist then travelled with Theirworld to an international conference on Syria in April and showed the video called 72 Hours – which has been watched more than six million times.
He told leaders in Brussels: “It will be the youth of today who become the future of Syria. So if they have no education, there is no hope for Syria in the future.”
That’s a view shared by Kaddoura. She is the PSS and Women Empowerment Coordinator in Lebanon for URDA (Union of Relief and Development Associations) – which co-ordinates about 80 NGOs dealing with Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
URDA, which helped Theirworld to organise Dynamo’s visit, gives children access to education in two main ways:
- Schools in “shelter centres” – URDA establishes and operates schools that provide free education in the camps.
- Student sponsorship – children get financial support to go to schools outside the camps, covering their transportation, tuition fees and school equipment. In 2016 this programme sponsored 22,830 Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian students.
“The shelter centres are in rural areas. There we provide informal education for grades one to five using the Lebanese curriculum,” said Kaddoura. “When students finish, they have a chance to be enrolled in a public school.
Providing children with education will ensure that no generation is lost and that you have an educated generation of children. Alaa Kaddoura from URDA
“But the public schools have a very limited capacity, even though the Lebanese government is offering two shifts – one in the morning, one in the afternoon.”
URDA also provides recreational activities for children under the age of five – this includes reading, writing and other basic skills.
Education and a daily regime can be vital in the lives of refugee children.
“These children have lost their homes. They have issues with the sense of belonging,” said Kaddoura.
“Providing children with education will ensure that no generation is lost and that you have an educated generation of children.
“The crisis has been going on for seven years now and there are children aged seven who don’t know how to read and write. They are losing touch with their culture.
“After seven years some have families or stable lives in Lebanon. But the vast majority want to go back to Syria.”
In a film made by URDA about its education programmes, children at a refugee camp at Taa’labaya in the Bekaa Valley spoke about their love of learning and the challenges they face.
“We had a better school in Syria – not like here in tents,” said one girl. A boy student said: “I dream of returning to my country.”
Education is helping to cement relationships within the refugee communities.
Kaddoura explained: “The parents are really happy – approaching the principal of the school to thank them, saying their children have changed a lot and they are now teaching their parents how to read and write.
“It has created a really good emotional and family bond between all the people.”
Efforts are also being made to ease tensions between the Syrian refugees and Lebanese host community.
Decostamine Initiative works with URDA to tackle this through artistic and cultural activities.
“We worked on a project to ease tension between Syrian and Lebanese students by training them to write songs and share stories, and then convert them into a theatrical play performed by the students themselves,” explained Ziad Azid, Decostamine’s Executive Manager.
“On Valentine’s Day, for the last three years, we have distributed flowers as a message of love from the Syrian people to the Lebanese people.”
Decostamine Initiative also works with URDA to improve the livelihoods of Syrian refugees.
Azid said: “We believe that securing a safe environment and good relations with the host community helps the refugees to integrate and get work. This helps to alleviate the burden on relief organisations such as URDA.”
Dynamo’s film about his trip to the Bekka Valley camps created a real buzz on social media.
“The first thing that hits you when you arrive is the number of children hanging around with nothing to do,” he said.
Watch Dynamo's inspiring film
“These children aren’t just refugees – they’re the future lawyers, doctors and architects that will be needed to rebuild Syria.”
Kaddoura said the interaction between Dynamo and the people in the camps was “outstanding”.
“People kept talking about his magic,” she said. “He did interviews with children – they were so proud and so were their parents. They were so happy that they were able to express themselves.
“The people hoped that his visit would be beneficial for the children and their education.
“I think anyone who sees the film will understand the situation and give a really high importance to education.”
- With thanks to players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, Theirworld will continue its projects and campaigning work to support Syrian refugee children into education.