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School in refuge: the stories of three Syrian children in Turkey

Daniel Gray | 23 September 2015 | 0 Comments

Around 1.5 million Syrians currently live as refugees in neighbouring Turkey – half of whom are children. Struggling to find a quality education – or any education at all – these children are at risk of becoming a lost generation. Through the Children of Peace programme, Concern hopes to offer them a lifeline.

In conflict and crisis, it is children who are most vulnerable to the vicissitudes of war. Children are frequently recruited by armed groups as combatants or intelligence sources, used for sexual exploitation and forced labour and are regularly victims of landmines.

Speaking on Good Morning Ulster last week, head of Concern Northern Ireland, Peter Anderson expressed the fear that Syria’s children will become a “lost generation”. Whether in Syria, where the education system has collapsed or living as refugees in neighbouring states like Lebanon and Turkey, it has become next-to-impossible for children to access the level and quality of schooling they once enjoyed.

When working with refugees, education often slips down the list of priorities in the stead of other life-saving action like basic shelter and sanitation. Concern Worldwide believes that providing children with the opportunity to return to school is a crucial part of normalising life after crisis and is important in addressing psychosocial impacts of war.

As part of ECHO’s Children of Peace fund, we are trying to restore quality primary education for refugee children in Turkey. In collaboration with the Turkish Ministry of Education, we have established temporary education centres in existing Turkish school buildings for Syrian children to be taught in accordance with a revised Syrian curriculum.

During the 12-month-long education project that started in the autumn of 2014, the EU grant provides over 100 teachers and support staff with training and outreach programmes, as well as covering the procurement of school support supplies, sports equipment and small scale repairs of school buildings for over 2,000 conflict-affected children.

We’d like to introduce you to three of the children who have taken part in the Children of Peace programme. Meet Amira, Mustafa and Ali.


Ali is part of Concern’s ECHO-funded Children of Peace programme supporting education for refugees in Turkey. Photo taken by Fionnagh Nally/Concern Worldwide.

Some of Ali’s friends have travelled to Germany, crossing the sea and then overland by themselves – and many more want to follow. The young Syrian knows some of them are happy there but for him, the dream is different. He tells us:

My Germany is in Syria.

Thirteen years old, Ali’s family came to Southern Turkey from Syria about 8 months ago. It is now the summer holidays and he is working on a building site with his older uncles. In the blistering summer heat, Ali helps by painting walls and carrying supplies up and down the streets. It is hard work and he is paid just 10TL per day (€3), all of which he gives to his father. It was his own choice to work this summer – as the eldest son, Ali feels that he needs to help his family: “I’m no longer a child who can play during the holidays. I am now a man and I need to be working.”

Ali’s day starts at 7am and he finishes work at 7pm. Sunday is his day off. He likes to hang out with his friends. Sometimes they play football. None of his Turkish friends are working anywhere. “They are not in the same situation as me,” he explains. 

Although he misses his former home and being away from friends and the places that he knows, he likes his new school here. “The teachers here are funny. They make us laugh, telling jokes. They care more for us here than our teachers did before.”


Mustafa is part of Concern’s ECHO-funded Children of Peace programme supporting education for refugees in Turkey. Photo taken by Fionnagh Nally/Concern Worldwide.

Mustafa has been living in Turkey for a year now since his family moved from Northern Syria. Neither of his parents is able to work due to illness. His father has cardiac problems and his mother suffers from severe asthma. Like his older brother and sister, he’s working to earn money for the family.

Mustafa cleans tables and washes dishes in a café, working every day from 10am to midnight. He earns 15TL (€5) per day and all this money goes towards his family’s rent.

For him, there’s no such thing as a day off. Even during the school year, he continues to work in the café, albeit for less pay. He gets up in the morning at 7am to be at school for 8am and after school ends he goes to work in café until midnight, every day. He tries to get his homework done during lunchtime if he can. There is no other time available. He does not get any breaks at work.

He loves to study Arabic and maths; his ambition is to become a civil engineer. When asked if he will go to University here, he is quick to respond – “No, I’ll go in Syria”. He hopes every day that they will return there.


Amira is part of Concern’s ECHO-funded Children of Peace programme supporting education for refugees in Turkey. Photo taken by Fionnagh Nally/Concern Worldwide.

Amira dreams of becoming an actress. She grabs her sunglasses and demonstrates her movie star pose, arm on hip and foot forward. She wants to be just like the beautiful actresses she has seen on the TV shows she used to watch, a world away from the current reality of her life.

Amira lives in a two room house with a tiny yard, down a dusty, narrow lane in a small border town in southern Turkey. The home is crowded, as she shares the space with her three younger siblings, her parents, aunt, uncle and five cousins. There’s very little furniture between them, just a couple of mats on the floor in each room.

Amira’s father works as a cleaner in her school. He wants all his children to go to school – though this isn’t easy. Due to the conflict some of them have missed as much as three years of school, missing out on the crucial learning of early years.

Learning loss is hugely problematic for young Syrian children who have missed up to three years of education as a result of the protracted and ongoing conflict. Many of them have faced considerable upheaval and turmoil in their young lives and have missed out on the fundamentals of literacy and numeracy.

Teachers note that some of their students are distressed, in some cases suffering from trauma as a result of what they have experienced. A series of workshops for teachers are scheduled throughout the school year, with topics designed to support them in areas such as classroom management, emotional support of conflict affected children and teaching Arabic literacy — so that girls like Amira can achieve the best education possible in fragile circumstances.

Names have been changed to protect the identities of refugees.

Concern Worldwide’s work with Syrian children in Turkey is funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO).


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