In a refugee camp, education is the only hope

This story was originally posted by UNICEF

By Kusali Kubwalo

For Syrian children living as refugees in Jordan, drop-in centres are helping to provide education and psychosocial support for those who have missed out on learning, including many like Ahmed, who has had to choose work over school.

ZA’ATARI, Jordan, 15 July 2015 – Sporting a bright yellow jersey and a wide grin, Ahmed* greets us at the football field outside the drop-in centre in Za’atari camp. He has just scored a goal and his team is ecstatic.

Ahmed, 13, has been out of formal school for three years. Back home in Da’ra, Syria, he dropped out of school because it was too dangerous to leave the house. When he arrived with his family in Za’atari refugee camp two years ago, Ahmed realized he would not be able to rejoin school as he had hoped.

“My brother and I got jobs selling cigarettes, because we needed to support our family. I had no choice,” Ahmed says.

Their father stayed behind in Syria, and the two brothers had to shoulder the responsibility of supporting their elderly mother and two sisters. They worked about 12 hours a day.

Lately, Ahmed has cut down to working a six-hour evening shift and spends some of his free time at a UNICEF-supported drop-in centre in the camp. He wants to invest his time in learning a trade. He is not sure yet what trade to pursue, but he knows he must learn something useful and practical to earn money.

In partnership with Save the Children International, UNICEF supports three such drop-in centres in Za’atari camp, where children can get literacy and numeracy skills, learn a trade or just play and have fun. Around 80 children, many of them working children, visit the centres every day, at all sorts of times.

“I feel happy here,” Ahmed says. “At this place, I can have fun, and every day I learn so much. The math I learn here also helps me with my work.”










Ahmed, 13, fled his Syrian homeland with his family two years ago, but had to choose work over returning to school. © UNICEF Jordan/2015/Kubwalo

Hope in education

The priority for UNICEF is to ensure that vulnerable Syrian girls and boys like Ahmed, who are living in camps and in host communities in Jordan, do not miss out on learning. The psychosocial support provided in the centres aims to help children to heal mentally and gain the necessary education and skills to build a better life for themselves and their families.

Abu Hussein, 45, lives with his wife and three children on the outskirts of Amman. “It’s hard to live here, as I have no job and I’m borrowing money from everywhere,” he says.ordan, do not miss out on learning. The psychosocial support provided in the centres aims to help children to heal mentally and gain the necessary education and skills to build a better life for themselves and their families.

“But we are thankful that our children are alive. Now our only hope is for them to go back to school. Only education can save them, give skills and hope, to have a better life when they grow up, and help rebuild Syria.”

UNICEF and the Jordanian Ministry of Education, with support from the European Commission, operates five schools in the refugee camps, as well as 98 public schools operating in double shifts in host communities across the country. Still, there are more than 90,000 vulnerable children in Jordan not receiving any form of education.

Reaching the most vulnerable

For many Syrian families struggling to get food on the table, sending children to school is becoming less and less a priority. Having run out of savings, and legally prohibited from employment, Syrian refugee families are taking desperate measures to survive – children are dropping out or not enrolling in schools, and child labour and child marriages are increasing.

A survey this year by UNICEF and Save the Children found that 13 per cent of Syrian refugee children in Za’atari camp between age 7 and 17 are engaged in some form of labour. Similarly, a 2014 UNICEF study on early marriages reports that one third of registered marriages among Syrians in Jordan involve children.

“Our focus right now is getting the 90,000 children into school or other forms of learning as quickly as possible, using innovative solutions like the ‘Makani’ approach,” says UNICEF Jordan Representative Robert Jenkins. “Only through learning can children reach their full potential and play a positive and active role for the peace and prosperity in their country and the region.”

 Initiated by UNICEF through civil society partners, the ‘Makani’ approach uses more than 200 existing community centres and outreach networks across the country to provide the most vulnerable children with opportunities for self-development, including alternative education services, psychosocial support and life skills training. The ‘Makani’ approach is funded by Canada, the European Union, Germany, Korea, the Netherlands and UKAid.


*Name changed

Ahmed works out a math problem during a numeracy class at the drop-in centre he attends in Za'atari refugee camp. © UNICEF Jordan/2015/Kubwalo