Growing up in conflict, displaced, and as refugees, the children of Syria have become a vulnerable generation—at risk of being lost altogether—without access to the things they need to be successful in life.
The future doesn't belong only to the children who grow up in peace.
It belongs to every child.
Missing school takes its toll. On Monday, my 14-year-old daughter, Shelby, called me from school as I was driving to work. She’d thrown up. I turned around, picked her up, got her home and into bed. I missed meetings.
My day was in a tailspin. And, as mothers do, I worried. Shelby worried, too. How long would she be sick? How would she make up her missed schoolwork and exams?
My daughter Sophie, 16, has missed a week of school so far this year because of the flu and threat of pneumonia. Sophie is looking at colleges. She’s a junior, an honor student, and wants to keep up her grades. She worries about missing another day of school right now.
As a mother, I worry, too.
But thinking of Ammar* and his younger brother, Elias*, put my life into perspective. The boys are now my daughters’ ages—14 and 16.
They’re not going to school. And it’s not illness that’s keeping them away.
The brothers and their mother fled fighting in Syria nearly three years ago. Their father never made it out and they fear he is dead. I met the family in the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan, where 150,000 people now call this windswept barren landscape home.
Their mother feared for her boys’ future.
“They were excellent students; they loved school, and their teachers loved them. What kind of life do they have now?” she said.
Now in its fifth year, fighting in Syria has unleashed one of the worst humanitarian crises in modern history, uprooting half of the nation’s population of more than 22 million.
Nearly 4 million have sought refuge in neighboring countries, including Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq. Nearly half are children.
The conflict has put at least 2.8 million children out of school—some for three years or more, with experts warning that if the immediate needs for education are not met, an entire generation could be lost.
I met scores of children, uprooted by the conflict and now living in temporary shelters, camps, and abandoned buildings in Lebanon, northern Iraq, and Jordan. They speak passionately and lovingly of home, school, and the life they once had before the war.
I remember hearing their voices flow like a fresh spring, bubbling with energy and possibilities. Ammar loved math and science, and wanted to learn how everything worked. He told me about his favorite teacher, a mathematician who often challenged the boy to think harder and smarter about equations and quotients. Elias, rambunctious and sweet, wanted to run his own company.
Other Syrian refugee children shared dreams of what they would do once they returned to their war-torn nation.
“Make sure all the children go to school,” said Rama, 11, another refugee child living in Za’atari. “I want to be a doctor because I want to make sure there is no more suffering or pain.”
“I want to be an architect and build houses, because I want children and their mothers to have a better place to live while everything else is torn apart,” says Hasan, 10, who was living in a makeshift shelter in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.
The Jordanian and Lebanese governments opened their countries’ public schools to Syrian refugees, but the demand is great and the schools fill fast.
Other children must choose between attending school and working to help their families survive.
For 11-year-old Absi, a Syrian refugee boy living in Jordan, the daily choice is agony: choose bread or books?
He wants to go to school, but his mother and sister depend on his daily wages—the equivalent of $2 a day.
No child should be forced to make this choice, says Lucy Strickland, World Vision's specialist in education in emergencies, based in Geneva, Switzerland.
“Many children caught in the crossfire of these conflicts lose their childhood literally overnight,” she said. “Without education and safe spaces in which children can be with their peers again and continue learning, they face increased protection risks.”
Children face exploitation, trafficking, and fates far worse.
12-year-old Haya, a Syrian refugee living in Jordan, clings to the hope of returning to her school.
She had penned a letter to the outside world last year, pleading, “We fear you are forgetting us.”
“It’s very hard here,” Haya says. “I want all Syrian children to stay in school, to return to school instead of going to work, because the future depends on us.”
My daughters are feeling better today and are back in class. They are able to keep their chance at an education that will help determine their future success.
But for Ammar and Elias in Jordan, and for millions of refugee children from Syria, the story may end far differently, unless as mothers and fathers who understand the value of an education, we continue to pray and to care about them as we care for our own children.
As I worry for Shelby and Sophie, I must continue to worry for Ammar and Elias.
The future doesn’t just belong to those who grow up without war.
It belongs to every child.
*Names changed to protect identity
In Lebanon and Jordan, World Vision is helping to meet the needs of refugee children by providing food, water and sanitation, protection, and education.
We have been responding to the needs of children and families affected by the crisis since 2011. We are currently working to serve those displaced within Syria and Iraq, as well as those who have sought refuge in neighboring Lebanon and Jordan. Join us in bringing relief to the Syrian refugees today.