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Getting Syrian children back to school

Khalid in Damascus is delighted about going back to school
Khalid in Damascus is delighted about going back to school

For children across the world, September signals a return to school. However, in Syria two million children, or 40% of students, have dropped out of school in the past year. What are we doing to help Syrian children get back to school?

Many of the two million children who have dropped out of school in Syria are among the one million child refugees who have fled into neighbouring countries. For Syrian students, the turmoil and violence brought by the civil war has severely restricted their right to education.

Violence forced Khalid to leave home

13 year-old Khalid was halfway through his sixth grade in school last December when his family was forced to flee their home in the Joubar suburb of Damascus. The escalating violence had made it an impossible place to live. As a result of losing their possessions, his parents could not afford to register him in another school.

Their dwindling resources had to be used to purchase food and basic essentials, such as cups. “We cannot afford getting ill, it is better to be cautious and prevent illness than going on the streets begging for money to pay for treatment,” says his mother. The family of five lives in a windowless storage area of six square metres. It is dark and damp, but they don’t complain.

What concerns Khalid’s parents the most is their son’s schooling. Knowing the value of education, the community has supported Khalid as much as it has been able to, but essential resources are scarce. The leader of the local mosque helped register him in a nearby school. However more is required to ensure that he stands a chance of completing seventh grade.

Getting back to schoolSyrian children

Khalid and his family were among those who received some of the 60,000 cooked meals supplied by SOS Children Syria in August. The team became aware of Khalid’s needs and supplemented the efforts of the community by supplying him with fresh clothes.

Getting back to school means everything to Khalid. Before he walks through the school doors in mid-September, he can look forward to receiving an SOS School Kit. He will also receive after school support to help catch up on the time that he lost.

Khalid is among children supported by SOS Children in an initiative that delivers Syria’s children their right to an education. Under the circumstances, Khalid considers himself lucky: “I miss my old school, my friends and my home. But I am happy to be here, safe with my parents and younger brothers, thank God we have a place to stay now”.

My right to education

To help Syrian children get back to school this month, SOS Children is engaging with 16,000 children in a project called “My Right to Education”. The rush is now on to provide school materials and other forms of support to children who desperately need to return to the classroom around Damascus, Aleppo and Latakia. Many of the children have been displaced and have missed out on over two years of schooling.

Back to school kits are now being distributed, which include a back bag, five note books, a colouring book, pens and pencils. School uniforms and registration fees are also arranged for 1,000 children living around the capital. As schools have been destroyed or used as homes for many of Syrian’s 4.25 million internally displaced, children will attend school in shifts. Due to limited space, many of the children must attend school at night.

Syrian boy in dark house

“A truly hard job”

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, highlighted the plight of Syria’s children during a speech earlier this summer: “Syria is a prime example of how SOS Children takes up work again and again in many crisis and poverty-stricken regions, even under the most difficult and dangerous circumstances. And SOS Children does not leave in the dust when things get risky. This is a truly hard job”. 

International eyes are increasingly focused upon the future of Syria’s children who have been affected by the civil war. Efforts are being coordinated to ensure that these children do not lose their childhood or their right to education. Gordon Brown, former British prime minister, and Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager turned education activist, are spear-heading a $500 million initiative to provide education for 300,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The initiative, the beginning of a broader push to provide schooling to refugees around the world, will be formalised at a UN General Assembly meeting on 23 September.

Meanwhile, families from our evacuated Children's Village in Aleppo remain safe at the Village in Qodsaya, near Damascus. SOS mothers and staff caring for frightened children and are planning to ensure their continued safety. 

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