Society

Educational Challenges of Syrian Refugees

The crisis in Syria has entered its 6th year, resulting in an estimated 4.8 million refugees, 6 million internally displaced people, and over 13.5 million seeking humanitarian aid. It’s difficult to imagine the country of Syria as a center of knowledge and advancement, as present day images paint a picture of rubble and destruction. Yet, the capital city of Damascus thrived as a major cultural and religious center during the Umayyad Caliphate. And both the 19th and 20th centuries saw this capital and other major cities flourish in culture and education. Unfortunately, the struggles of the past five years have spawned widespread destruction and death.
The day-to-day challenges faced by the Syrian people, both those still in the country and those fleeing it, are unimaginable. Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD) is working from its HHRD Middle East North Africa (MENA) office in Jordan to provide humanitarian relief to the refugees who have fled to Jordan. One of the main services besides proper shelter and medical assistance is education. With over 5,000 schools across Syria destroyed or damaged, and the deadly trek children are required to make to reach still-operating schools, an overwhelming majority of children remain home. There has been a drastic decline from a 93 percent enrollment and attendance rate to a ranking of second worst in the world. It is reported that an estimated 2.8 million Syrian children are not enrolled in school. There are numerous factors that play a role in preventing these children from securing a proper education: destroyed or military occupied school buildings, the necessity of fleeing their homes, psychological distress or trauma, child labor, and unfamiliar curricula and languages.
Through the efforts of our HHRD MENA office, our Jordan team has been actively engaged with operating eight of our programs in Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia, all of which help Syrian refugee families. The programs which help the children receive the best possible education include Education Support, Shelter Relief (Caravans of Hope), Orphan Support, and In-Kind Gifts. Of the over 4,810,216 registered Syrian refugees, 635,324 are residing in Jordan where 86 percent are living below the local poverty line. HHRD’s Education Support Program provides Family and Higher Education support systems which helped 2,227 students receive a proper education this past year. Monthly stipends for educational costs, along with home visits, ensured sponsored children are on their way towards a more promising tomorrow. Those pursuing a college degree are also sponsored to attend local universities.
Through our Shelter Relief “Caravans of Hope” program, HHRD was able to secure 160 proper shelters for families. Each micro-home includes two rooms, a small kitchen area, running water, and a functional toilet. With a proper roof over their heads and protection from environmental elements, families are able to enjoy a modicum of normal day-to-day routine. Safety and security help ensure the well-being of these children who have witnessed unimaginable hardship. More recently, two centers have been established to address immediate needs of refugee families — one serves as an orphanage for widows and their children, while the other has been set up as a school for families residing in the refugee camp. HHRD’s Orphan Support Program provides financial support, education, life skills, medical assistance, social upliftment through camps and field trips, and psychological support for 1, 550 children. Donations for sponsoring or supporting an orphan allow HHRD to provide free medical screenings, financial support for necessary purchases, access to local schools, school supplies, and social activities.
“Smiles across the miles” is the motto of HHRD’s In-Kind Gifts Program. In-Kind Gifts are donated goods and services rather than monetary donations. This program has sent 57 forty-foot containers with winter relief items, nonperishable foods, and medical and school supplies to 295,240 refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. The refugee families have received warm clothing and blankets during the winter months, as well as school bags and supplies for the academic year.
Even with the humanitarian and relief aid being provided, the reality of life in refugee camps is still fraught with hardship, sorrow, and insecurity. So many families continue to struggle to survive without access to essentials such as food, shelter, and water. HHRD is committed to providing our brothers and sisters across the globe, and specifically in and around Syria, with humanitarian relief. It is unfortunate that the children bear the brunt of this struggle, many of whom are born into this conflict and are growing up with this new norm of living in conditions of fear, insecurity, and little hope for a normal future. Those who are older are struggling to understand why this is happening to them and why so many in the world seem indifferent to their suffering.
Through these programs and many more, HHRD is working towards providing necessary relief, as well as helping these refugee children acquire a solid education. These programs play a major role in ensuring these children are prepared for school, receive a basic education, and find enjoyment in learning. The little hands draw pictures of big dreams to one day be more than just a statistic.

Sana KhanAuthor Sana Khan, a graduate of Rutgers University School of Communication and Information, is a freelance journalist and ICNA-NJ volunteer.

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