In Turkey, Syrian children with dreams

September 29, 2015
Written by Daniel Gray

Concern is working to restore primary education for Syrian refugee children in Turkey. We spoke to three of these children about their hopes for the future.

Amira dreams of becoming an actress. To drive that point home, she grabs her sunglasses and demonstrates her movie star pose, hand on hip and foot forward. She wants, she says, to be just like the beautiful actresses she saw on the TV shows she used to watch at home in Syria, a world away from her current life.

Amira

Amira

Amira is among the 1.5 million Syrians refugees in neighboring Turkey, half of whom are children. She lives in a two-room house with a tiny yard, down a dusty, narrow lane in a small border town. She shares the home with three younger siblings, her parents, aunt, uncle and five cousins. Their furniture is limited to a couple of floor mats in each room.

Amira says she wants to be just like the beautiful actresses she saw on TV in Syria, a world away from her current life.

Amira has her dreams, and her father has his. He works as a cleaner in her school, and getting an education is what he wants most for all his children. But finding a quality education — or any education at all — can be a struggle, and many Syrian refugee children have missed as many as three years of school.

A “Lost Generation”

Speaking on Good Morning Ulster, Peter Anderson, head of Concern Northern Ireland, 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 neighboring states like Lebanon and Turkey, it has become next-to-impossible for children to access the level and quality of schooling they once enjoyed.

Providing children with the opportunity to return to school is a crucial step in normalizing life after a crisis and addressing psychosocial impacts of war.

Education often slips down the list of priority needs for the refugees, which include basics like shelter and sanitation. But Concern Worldwide believes that providing children with the opportunity to return to school is a crucial step in normalizing life after a crisis and addressing psychosocial impacts of war.

As part of ECHO’s Children of Peace fund, we work in collaboration with the Turkish Ministry of Education to restore primary education for refugee children. We have established temporary education centers in existing Turkish school buildings for Syrian children to be taught a revised Syrian curriculum.

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

Ali: “I’m No Longer A Child”

Ali, 13, came with his family to southern Turkey from Syria about a year ago. During the summer holidays, he works on a building site with his older uncles, painting walls and carrying supplies up and down the streets. He is paid the equivalent of about 3 dollars a day, 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

Ali

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 have jobs. “They are not in the same situation as me,” he explains.

“I’m no longer a child who can play during the holidays. I am now a man and I need to be working.”

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 Hopes Daily to Return to Syria

Mustafa feels a little differently. He has been living in Turkey for a year 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

Mustafa

Mustafa cleans tables and washes dishes in a café, working every day from 10am to midnight. He earns about five dollars per day, which is used to help his family’s rent.

Mustafa’s ambition is to become a civil engineer. When asked if he will go to a university here, he is quick to respond. “No, I’ll go in Syria.”

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 math; his ambition is to become a civil engineer. When asked if he will go to a university here, he is quick to respond. “No, I’ll go in Syria.” He is glad for school, but hopes every day that he will be able to return to his homeland.

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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