“When I saw these drawings from refugee children, I thought the hope and the strength within them could push the international community to prioritise education”

Soulayma with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Avaaz campaigner Fatima Ibrahim


By Soulamya Mardam, an A World at School Global Youth Ambassador in Lebanon

As a Global Youth Ambassador for A World at School, I had the opportunity to travel to London for the civil society conference on Syria that took place on February 3 – the eve of the Syria donors conference.  

Syrian and regional civil society as well as international organisations were brought together to discuss the needs of the Syrian population – both inside Syria and in neighbouring countries Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. The main focuses were livelihoods, protection and education.

In the middle of the Syrian tragedy, which is often referred to as the worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two, education is not getting the place it deserves.

When food, shelter and healthcare are at the forefront, education and long-term planning might often be neglected. Yet, it is at the basis of everything.

This was at the heart of my message; a message I was able to deliver during the breakout session on education.

Soulayma addresses the civil society event at Supporting Syria and the Region conference Picture: Getty Images/Ben Pruchnie

I stood up and told the room of people that providing children with education is not only about teaching basic literacy and numeracy. It is about delivering a quality education that provides lifelong skills and enables children to engage with their environment.

War, destruction, loss and life as a refugee are horrific experiences that many children of Syria have suffered and continue to suffer. I believe that it is our duty to help them overcome their trauma, empower and provide them with tools to build their confidence and allow them to believe in their dreams.

Forgotten children and youth are clearly at high risk of exploitation, child labour, early marriage and extremism.

It is true that enrolling Syrian refugee children in school and providing them with quality education in neighbouring countries comes at a price. However, this price will be far higher if the world doesn’t take the challenge up.

Many other participants of the conference spoke out in favour of working towards the certification of non-formal education, as well as the reform of vocational training programmes to adapt them to today’s world – increasing local and refugee youths’ jobs opportunities. 

Syrian children in every country need a quality education

I believe that education is a basic human right. The Convention on the Rights of the Child states, firstly, that primary education should be made available and compulsory to all (28.a).

It goes on to describe that the objectives of education should be the development of the child’s personality and abilities to their fullest potential (29.a) and helping children to grow into responsible human beings in accordance with values of peace and tolerance (29.d).  

In London, I spoke up for this right. But I wasn’t doing it alone.

A highlight of my visit was meeting British actress and education advocate Laura Carmichael. Together, we shared messages from hundreds of refugee children to the conference attendees.

Before my trip, Global Youth Ambassadors in Lebanon collected drawings and handprints of children from all across the country, highlighting their dreams and hope for the future.

Soulayma with Laura Carmichael outside Big Ben with handprinted messages from refugee children Picture: Getty Images/Ben Pruchnie

Some children want to become lawyers, others teachers or doctors. Some want to be fashion designers, others astronauts or athletes.

When I saw these drawings, I thought that the hope and the strength within them could push the international community to prioritize education. 

On the day of the event, I was nervous about representing so many children as I knew it was a big responsibility. However, I truly believe that the more I speak up for the right to education, the more children’s aspirations will be listened to by those who can make change happen.

This belief made me feel more confident as I stood up to speak and knowing I had the support of such a large network of young people behind me helped to calm my nerves.

Together, we asked donors to commit at least $1.4 billion to make sure all children and young people affected by the crisis have access to education during the 2016/2017 academic year and beyond.

Drawing by a Syrian refugee child who wants to be teacher

Together, we asked Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to provide one million school places to Syrian refugees for the coming academic year.

Before the pledging conference half of the funds had been secured, but this was not enough.   

Was our message heard? I think so. This was the first humanitarian pledge conference where education was high on the agenda and considered a key component of Syria’s future.

The conference resulted in $11 billion pledged to the people of Syria, supporting the enrolment of children in school.

A huge and important promise was made. The next school year will tell if the international community can keep it.