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Preventing a lost generation

As the Syria crisis response communications manager for World Vision International, Meg Sattler has been reporting from Jordan about the Syrian refugee crisis.

Today, Meg tells the story of Yeman and Shamaa. As Syrian refugees living in Jordan, these best friends and next-door neighbors are getting a second chance at an education through World Vision's remedial program.

*     *     *

Yeman, 9, and Shamaa, 10, are next-door neighbors. They sit on the floor of Yeman’s home in the afternoon, homework sprawled across the sunlit floor.

“I’m going to be a teacher when I’m bigger,” says Shamaa, who rarely stops smiling. “I like maths, so I will teach maths to all the children. But I’m not going to teach it here. I’m going to teach it in Syria.”

Syrian children living as refugees in Jordan face challenges with continuing their education away from home. Syrian children living as refugees in Jordan face challenges with continuing their education away from home. World Vision's remedial education programs helps get them caught up and back in the classroom. (Photo: Meg Sattler/World Vision)

 

She and Yeman are home from school for the day. They’re drinking juice and playing with their siblings. It’s a scene replicated all over the world. Yet this normal situation has not come easily to them. One year ago, they were living in war. Eight months ago, they fled with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.

“There were soldiers surrounding our home. We didn’t take anything, we just ran,” says Shamaa. She’s gentle and soft-spoken. It’s strange to imagine her in such a situation.

Shamaa's family made their way to the Jordanian border, finding themselves at Za’atari, a sprawling desert camp built for 50,000 people but now housing three times that number. The camp is unforgiving -- treeless, dusty, and desolate.

“We stayed three months in the camp, but it was very bad,” says Shamaa’s mother, Samhar. “It was winter and we were freezing.”

Five months ago, they left Za’atari and made the journey to Irbid, a sprawling city in Jordan’s north.

“We are really struggling to survive here; we’re left with nothing. But many people were killed in my country. I couldn’t leave them there,” she says, gesturing toward the children.

“All this time, my children have been missing school. They’ve been missing play, too. This is no life for them.” Samhar swallows hard. Her lip is shaking, but she smiles at her youngest son, 5-year-old Abidalnoor, whose big eyes are fixed on hers.

Yeman and Shamaa were neighbors in Syria. Their mothers were friends. When fighting intensified in their neighborhood two years ago, they stopped going to school.

“I went to school when I was in Syria,” says Yeman. “I really loved it. We lived in the village and played in the garden with our friends. Now I can’t do that. There is nothing here.”

The Jordanian government has opened public schools to Syrian refugees, but the demand is great and the schools fill fast. Schools near Yeman and Shamaa are at capacity, and their mothers cannot afford transportation costs to send them elsewhere. Even when a local school is available, many children have missed too much to keep up. Others need to work to take care of their families. Child labor is rife, and the drop-out rate is high.

“Around 60 percent of Syrian refugee children are not attending school,” says Sabrina Pourmand, program director for World Vision’s Syria crisis response. “Over 50 percent of Syrian refugees are school-aged children. With these statistics, it's clear that there could be an entire lost generation of children, stripped of their rights to an education.”

In response to the immense need, World Vision has been facilitating remedial classes during the summer school break, allowing both Syrian and Jordanian children to access education, making up for lost time. The aim is to equip them to return to school, reintegrating into the class levels appropriate to their ages.

Laila, who facilitates the project through partner agency UNRWA, explains the need: “The syllabus between Jordan and Syria is quite different. In Syria, they don’t learn in English, for example. Our program prepares them to go to school, so we don’t lose them. We don’t want them to drop out. They are little children.”

Yeman and Samaar have been attending the remedial school, and are preparing to graduate this week.

Syrian children living as refugees in Jordan face challenges with continuing their education away from home. Syrian children living as refugees in Jordan face challenges with continuing their education away from home. World Vision's remedial education programs helps get them caught up and back in the classroom. (Photo: Meg Sattler/World Vision)

 

“Miss Laila approached us and told us about the special classes,” says Samhar. “It was a blessing because we couldn’t send them anywhere else. We want to go back to our homeland and I want my children to live safely there, but I can’t do that now. I was worried that my children wouldn’t catch up with school. Our lives keep slipping away, but I know this will help.”

Yeman says he has enjoyed his classes in Jordan. His school bag and books now comprise the majority of his possessions.

“I like everything at school. I learn reading, maths, English. I was not too familiar with some of these things at the start but now I understand,” he says.

“Life is difficult,” he adds. “And school is difficult because the language is different. But I like the new school.”

Yeman’s English homework book is open to T -- for ‘tree.’ He points to the word, and says it aloud: “Tree.”

“But…there are no trees here,” he says. “There are trees in Syria. One day I’ll go back to Syria.”

World Vision is hoping to expand its remedial education program, at least doubling the amount of children attending catch-up classes this year, and is urgently appealing for funds.


Make a one-time donation to help World Vision provide emergency assistance for Syrian refugees. Your gift will help us deliver basic hygiene kits and food vouchers for refugee families, as well as support initiatives like the remedial education program, helping refugee children continue their education away from home.

Please join us in prayer for all World Vision staff members working around the world, particularly in this region of conflict.

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