A new IDP family receiving their RRM kit:  1 Hygiene Kit, 1 dignity kit, 1 food kit and 2 containers of water.

Stay or Flee—Desperate and Impossible Choices for Families in Mosul

As Iraqi and coalition forces begin their assault on Mosul, the lives of more than half a million children are hanging in the balance. The escalation in the conflict is forcing families to make an impossible choice. Stay in their homes and risk being killed in the conflict, trapped beyond the reach of humanitarian aid without food and medical care, or flee into the heart of the fighting on unsecured roads, facing an uncertain future.

Graphic showing the desperate situation for the residents of Mosul as the offensive begins.
Graphic showing the desperate situation for the residents of Mosul as the offensive begins.

Families inside Mosul say they cannot afford to buy food, water and basic medical supplies, and have been preparing shelters inside their homes in case of bombardment. Many say they are too scared to leave the city until the roads out are secured.

 

Rapid response distribution for new arrivals at a screening center in Salah ad Din province, Iraq. These trucks are loaded with boxes pre-positioned for newly expected arrivals from areas of conflict in the north as a result of the impending Mosul offensive. At least 150,000 people have been displaced so far and the offensive could force over 1 million people to flee their homes.
Rapid response distribution for new arrivals at a screening center in Salah ad Din province, Iraq. These trucks are loaded with boxes pre-positioned for newly expected arrivals from areas of conflict in the north as a result of the impending Mosul offensive. At least 150,000 people have been displaced so far and the offensive could force over 1 million people to flee their homes.

Military commanders have asked vulnerable families to stay inside and put white flags on their homes. At best this is impractical in a brutal urban conflict. At worst, it risks civilian buildings being turned into military positions and families being used as human shields.

A man walks through the dirty screening center to line up for distribution. Save the Children are currently doing waste management to clean the screening center of rubbish and make it more livable for IDPs stuck in the area.
A man walks through the dirty screening center to line up for distribution. We are currently involved with waste management to clean the screening center of rubbish and make it more livable for internally displaced persons who are stuck in the area.

Those who attempt to flee the city face booby traps, snipers, and hidden land mines. It’s impossible to fathom, but many families are currently seeking refuge in war-torn Syria, with about 5,000 people, mostly women and children, arriving at the Al Hol Camp from the Mosul area in the last 10 days, and at least 1,000 more are now massing at the border waiting to cross.

Rapid response distribution for new arrivals at a screening center in Salah ad Din province, Iraq. These trucks are loaded with boxes pre-positioned for newly expected arrivals from areas of conflict in the north as a result of the impending Mosul offensive. At least 150,000 people have been displaced so far and the offensive could force over 1 million people to flee their homes.
Rapid response distribution for new arrivals at a screening center in Salah ad Din province, Iraq.

If people do manage to escape, they also face an uncertain situation. At the moment camps are ready for only around 60,000 people — a tiny fraction of the up to 1 million people who could flee Mosul. The UN’s emergency appeal is still only half funded, but camps could be overwhelmed within days.

A new IDP family receiving their RRM kit: 1 Hygiene Kit, 1 dignity kit, 1 food kit and 2 containers of water.
A new family receiving their RRM kit: 1 Hygiene Kit, 1 dignity kit, 1 food kit and 2 containers of water.

Save the Children is calling for safe routes out of the city to be immediately identified and maintained, and cleared of deadly explosives. The safety of children must be made a priority.

Distribution in Salah ad Din province – trucks being readied to meet new arrivals at screening.
Distribution in Salah ad Din province – trucks being readied to meet new arrivals at screening.

Our teams are already seeing people making dangerous journeys to get out ahead of the offensive. Thousands of families are escaping the area around Hawija and at least 5,000 people have fled villages around Mosul and crossed into northeast Syria in the past week, and are living in desperate conditions across the border.

We are in the region working to provide emergency water supplies, dried food, soap and other items to newly displaced families. Learn more about our work in during this crisis and how you can help. 

One year after Alan Kurdi photo, the moral test of a generation

The body of a 2-year-old boy who washed ashore in Turkey was identified as Alan Kurdi, seen here, left, with his brother, Galip, who also drowned. The boys and their mother, Rehen, died during a treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea in September 2015 to escape war-torn Syria. The boys' aunt, Tima Kurdi, who lives in Canada, posted this image to Facebook.

Originally published on CNN.com

Every week last summer news of refugees streaming into Europe dominated global headlines. Yet it wasn’t until September 2, one year ago, that the world reacted in horror to the image of Alan Kurdi — the 3-year-old Syrian toddler who drowned trying to escape a war that was older than he was — dead on a beach in Turkey.

Like the photo of the naked girl burning from napalm during the Vietnam War or images of starving children in Ethiopia in 1984, would Alan’s photo prompt action by world leaders to end the suffering that has caused millions of people to risk their lives in search of safety?

Sadly, the answer so far is no, and the world must do better. Since Alan died, more than 4,000 mothers, fathers, sons and daughters have died trying to make a similar journey across the Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration. The situation is so dire that Save the Children, an organization for children in need, is launching a search and rescue boat to prevent children from drowning as they try to get to Italy from Africa. Globally, during the same period, the International Organization for Migration estimates that more than 6,000 migrants died attempting to find a better life.

How will history reflect on our lack of action?

Just last week, humanitarian organizations including Save the Children called for a 48-hour ceasefire in Aleppo, Syria, to allow for aid and food to reach the families under siege. That’s a first step, but political solutions to end fighting in Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan and elsewhere must remain the goal to bring about peace and to ensure that another generation of children doesn’t grow up surrounded by constant violence.

The reality is that even when such solutions do develop, not everyone who has left can or will go home. Some still do not feel safe returning. For others, their land or home is gone. For others still, there is no reason to go home because they have been permanently resettled in their new home country — earning a living, integrating into local communities and making economic and civic contributions.

Regardless of why people left and whether or not they can return, there are three steps we can take to improve the lives of displaced people the world over.
First, we need to continue to support countries at the front lines of the crisis with immediate needs. I just returned from Berlin, where I met with refugee families. They told me that the majority of their basic needs such as food and shelter are covered, but their biggest concern is their children’s future. Nearly every family I’ve spoken with says the main reason they fled their country is so their children could have an education and a childhood.

Another example is Lebanon — a small country where more than 25% of the population is refugees. This country has taken in families in their time of need, but they need additional funding from the international community for extra shifts at school so more children can access quality education, vocational training and cash subsidies to avoid a rise in child labor.

Second, as leaders prepare to meet in New York for the UN General Assembly, they should commit to the principle that no refugee child should be out of school for more than 30 days. Given what these children have been through, we need to focus on more than just their immediate physical needs.

 

After basic needs are met, few things are more beneficial than an education to help a child recover from the psychological trauma of violence. Learning inside a classroom helps children gain skills that enable them to become productive members of society and embrace a future of hope, not one overshadowed by the false promises of extremism.

Finally, we need to change the negative and generalized way that we think about the 65.3 million people worldwide who are currently forcibly displaced. They are individuals who would collectively make up the 21st-largest country in the world, with a population larger than Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania combined. They come from all races, religions, professions and more than 150 countries.

Many have experienced or witnessed violence on a scale that most Americans cannot fathom. Each has a family and has had to leave a job and oftentimes a home. We need to understand that those displaced are people with great potential.

President Barack Obama’s Leaders’ Summit on Refugees is just 18 days away. This fall will also see the election of the ninth UN secretary-general and elections in more than 20 countries. It is time for the world to step up and make a greater commitment to help refugees, help the countries who host them and give refugee children a future they can believe in.

Steps to Achieve SDG4 for #EveryLastChild

by Coco Lammers

a picture of Masa 03 March 16. Ahmad Baroudi/Save the Children

This is Masa. When Masa was one year old, her family was forced to flee their home country of Syria for Turkey. Today, Masa is five years old, an age when many children around the world go to school. She is among the 1 million Syrian refugee children living in neighboring countries who are not in school.

In most cases, it will take years for a refugee girl like Masa to get the chance to go to school. Even after an immediate crisis ends, if a family has the chance to return home, infrastructure is often weak and the government has a difficult time establishing funding, policies, and procedures to get the national education system on track. Teachers may not get paid for months, classrooms are crowded, materials are nonexistent, communities are afraid to send their children back to school due to safety, and governments only pay attention to whether kids attend classes, not whether they are actually learning. If the family stays in another country, it could take years for them to matriculate into the schools, if they ever do.

In 2014, a UNESCO report revealed that around 250 million children around the world are in school but not learning the basics. The result is a global learning crisis. In 2015, after the completion of the 2000-2015 Millennium Development Goals, all governments adopted an ambitious development agenda for the year 2030 that sets out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As a response to the global learning crisis, Goal 4 of the SDGs (SDG4) is focused on ensuring access to quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Achieving ’education for all’ and ensuring ‘no one is left behind’, key pledges made by all governments in the SDGs, will be particularly difficult in conflict affected and fragile states. Last year, a Save the Children report revealed that the countries furthest behind in achieving the MDGs were not the least developed countries, but were countries affected by crisis, conflict, or fragility. According to the World Bank, people in conflict-affected and fragile states are more than three times as likely to be unable to send their children to school as those in other developing countries.

So, how do we ensure that all children, no matter who they are or where they live, are in school and learning?

Step 1: Data

  • Countries, at the national and subnational level, need to identify the most excluded children.  Then they need to make a public commitment to produce more and better data that shows where the gaps are and enable targeting of resources towards the most excluded groups.  Governments must work with researchers to collect disaggregated data and to ensure consistency, allowing data to be compared across countries, regions, and at the global level.
  • There should be commitment among donors to ensure that there is a minimal level of data collected in all countries. This “data floor” is especially critical for countries affected by crisis and conflict who have the worst track record on data collection. Education must be a part of the data floor.
  • Data must be disaggregated at a minimum by income, sex, age, race, ethnicity, migration status, disability and geographic location, common differentiators for development progress, so that patterns and trends in educational inequity can be identified and plans can be implemented to ensure that these groups see progress first, not last.
  • Governments must set national interim equity targets for specific groups to monitor progress toward SDG4 and to ensure the most marginalized and excluded children, including refugees and internally displaced children, are learning and on track to meet SDG4 targets.
  • The international community must encourage citizen-led data collection, expand access to and transparency of existing data resources, and build local capacity for data use and analysis in order to drive change from the ground up.

Step 2: Accountability

  • Governments and international bodies must establish effective, inclusive and participatory accountability mechanisms at all levels to help ensure that progress is being made on SDG4.
  • Donors and developing countries alike need to make a commitment to find more and better funding for education and SDG implementation.
  • Global resources should be focused on countries where progress on SDG4 will be most challenging, including in countries affected by crisis, conflict, and fragility.
  • Civil society and other stakeholders, including young people, need to continue to push for and engage in effective governance structures and accountability mechanisms to ensure progress on SDG4.
  • Donors, oversight bodies, and non-governmental organizations need to use the data collected on SDG4 to push for greater accountability, follow-up, and review of the SDGs at all levels.

As advocates, we need both courage and persistence to keep the momentum going on this equitable learning agenda. It will take hard work and sustained attention to ensure that even when contexts change, crisis strikes, or stability is threatened that young girls like Masa and all children, regardless of their background and circumstances, are able to go to school and learn.

In 2030, Masa will be 19 years old. Imagine what a quality education and lifelong learning could do for her generation. The possibilities for her and millions of other children just like her are endless.

Learn more about Education in Emergencies.

Coco Lammers is the Manager of Global Development, Policy, and Advocacy for Save the Children

Photo Credit: 03 March 16. Ahmad Baroudi/Save the Children

This post originally appeared on The Global Campaign for Education.

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Refugee Baby Triumphs Against the Odds in Greece

sandySandy Maroun

Humanitarian Media and Communications Manager

Save the Children in Greece

August 11, 2016

As Khadji* welcomes me into her tent, she asks me to have a seat on the ground and she places her little sleeping baby Bikas* on a makeshift bed. The bed is constructed with a slab of iron, supported with iron stakes and covered with blankets.

I ask Khadji if this is the baby’s bed. She gives me a small nod and says he sleeps anywhere in the tent – they don’t have any other options.

As I look at Bikas, I reflect on the babies being born and raised in refugee camps in Greece – what impact will this have on their health and development? Will they still be in these camps when they turn one? Two? I can’t help but wish Bikas had a quiet room and a comfortable cradle to sleep in, just like millions of other babies around the world. RS122172_Bikas4

Once Bikas is settled, 25-yearold Khadji tells me her story. She speaks about the war and insecurity she and her husband and young children witnessed at home in Iraq, the shelling and the persecution by armed groups. She also tells me about the perilous journey from Turkey to Greece on a shaky, inflatable boat while she was pregnant with Bikas. Khadji reveals she was unsure that they would survive. She was terrified of losing her children in the sea, like so many mothers before her.

Khadji also tells me about her son’s birth. On a warm night in the middle of June in the refugee camp, Khadji started to feel contractions that got stronger and closer together. At first she thought they were passing contractions just like other ones she had before earlier in June. However, as they intensified, she knew she was going to deliver that night. As her husband was looking for a way to transport her to the hospital, Khadji said she felt lonely and fearful. She had no family around her: no mother to comfort her and assure her that everything will be fine, no sister to wipe her sweaty face or father to support her to get to the hospital.

When finally she arrived at the hospital, her husband at her side, they found out the delivery was complicated and Khadji had to undergo a painful and long caesarian section. Not only that, her new baby Bikas was suffering from tachycardia, an abnormally fast heart rate and was only 1.5 kilograms. He had to be hospitalized for ten days. Khadji told me how worried she was that Bikas wouldn’t survive.

Bikas did survive. But Khadji was not able to breastfeed him while he was in hospital and he wasn’t putting on weight quickly enough.

Breastfeeding is the best option to ensure babies receive the nutrients they need to survive, grow and develop. But, breastfeeding is challenging in a refugee camp as mothers live in a stressful environment and face social and economic hardship. They lack a private, quiet and relaxing space to breastfeed and spend quality time with their babies allowing them to create a bond with them.

Khadji tells me how determined she was to breastfeed Bikas following his recovery and discharge from hospital. She then explains how she visited Save the Children’s Mother and Baby Area in her camp in search of assistance. Save the Children’s team helped Khadji to start breastfeeding again.

“A container with milk was attached to a tube which was taped to my breast. So while Bikas was sucking my breast, he was getting milk from the tube. It helped me get my milk back,” Khadji explains.

RS122169_Bikas1She proudly tells me that it has been six weeks that she’s been breastfeeding Bikas several times a day and that she’s happy he now weighs 3.5 kilograms.

Save the Children’s nutrition programme in Greece supports mothers and their young children by providing a quiet, private and relaxing space to breastfeed babies, and advice and counselling on infant and young child feeding practices. Skilled counsellors also work with mothers having difficulties breastfeeding and help them continue to breastfeed.

I find Khadji’s awareness and determination remarkable. Despite the harshness of life in a refugee camp far from her home and family, Khadji is trying her hardest to breastfeed her baby and give him the best start in life.

I wonder about Khadji in a different setting. In a beautiful home raising her three young and healthy sons who go to school every day; living with her husband who has a stable job and who surrounds her and their children with care. Hopefully, one day soon, this will be Khadji’s reality.

To help us reach more mothers and babies like Khadji and Bikas, please donate to our Child Refugee Crisis Relief Fund. 

Save the Children’s nutrition program in Greece is funded by the United Nations Refugee Agency, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department, Probitas and UBS.

*Name changed for protection

Quiz: The Refugee Olympic Team

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Refugees are Going for Gold in Rio

Refugees contribute many things to society including representing their new countries during the Olympics. For the first time, refugees are also competing as a team during the Olympic Games in Brazil. Test your refugee Olympic knowledge with this short quiz.

Children’s Education is Simply too Important to be a Casualty of War

A blog post by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children International and former Prime Minister of Denmark, and Julia Gillard, Chair of the Global Partnership for Education and former Prime Minister of Australia

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When Ali* and his family fled their home in Syria shortly after the war broke out, they had nothing but the clothes on their backs and hope for a better future. Five years on, that hope has turned to despair. Now in Lebanon, none of the family’s six children attend formal schooling, and 15-year-old Ali and his younger brother must work to support their family, digging potatoes for just $4 USD per day.

With wars and persecution driving more than 20 million people worldwide – half of them children – to seek protection in other countries, many are struggling to access basic services. This includes healthcare and education, and the important day-to-day needs of food and shelter.

While education is the single most important tool we can equip children with, it is often one of the first casualties of conflicts and emergencies. Less than 2 percent of global humanitarian funding is currently provided to pay for learning during crises – thereby wasting the potential of millions of children worldwide. Formal learning provides children with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed, while giving them hope for the future. It also gives children who have experienced the trauma and horrors of war and disaster the stability and sense of familiarity they need to be children, while protecting them from the risks of exploitation. Despite the generosity of many countries hosting large refugee populations – the vast majority of which are developing countries – most are struggling to provide refugees with the most basic services, including education. The situation is especially bleak in countries where a third generation of children has now been born into displacement.

Enrollment in primary school among these vulnerable children is well below the national average in places like Lebanon, Uganda, Kenya and Malaysia – a gap which is even more startling among secondary school-aged refugees. In fact, refugee children globally are five times less likely to attend school than other children, with 50 percent of primary school-aged refugee children and 75 percent of secondary school-aged children completely left out of the education system.

A poll commissioned by Save the Children in April found that 77 percent of respondents in 18 countries think children fleeing conflict have as much right to an education as any other child. Yet, for 3.2 million refugee children around the world like Ali and his siblings – who want nothing more than to learn and go to school – education is often an unattainable dream. We simply cannot allow this to continue.

Nearly one month ago at the World Humanitarian Summit, several organizations, including the Global Partnership for Education and Save the Children, joined forces with governments and donors to stop education from falling through the cracks during emergencies. Save the Children also committed to campaigning to get all refugee children back in school within a month of being displaced. Being a refugee cannot be synonymous with missing out on a quality education or being denied a better future – especially when vulnerable children have been forced to flee their homes and countries through no fault of their own. In short, refugee children deserve the right to a quality education as much as any other child.

We know that host countries need support from the international community and understand that no single country can solve this challenge on its own. But we also know that political will is key to solving this challenge.

Our goal is simple – to get millions of refugee children affected by crises back in school, where they belong.

The Education Cannot Wait fund has the potential to be a game changer, but only if governments, donors and aid organizations come together to prioritize, support, coordinate and properly fund this mechanism.

While $90 million USD have been generously pledged to date, billions more will be needed over the next few years if we are to reach our goal of getting 75 million children affected by crises back to school by 2030. Only then can we meet the Sustainable Development Goals set out by the UN, and ensure that no child in the world is ‘left behind.’

Accountability and transparency will be key to the success of Education Cannot Wait – so too will be ensuring that any money pledged for education in emergencies is new, and not simply taken from aid already earmarked for life-saving services like healthcare and nutrition.

In September, world leaders and donors will come together at two key global meetings on the issue of refugees and migrants – this most pressing challenge of our time. We urge those in attendance at the UN high-level meeting and the leader’s summit to prioritize education for children in emergencies and protracted crisis, including those who have been displaced.

With the right opportunities and the chance to learn, children like Ali will no longer be pressured to work – giving him and his family the hope they need to rebuild their lives, and potentially their country, if or when it is safe for them to return.

To learn about Save the Children’s work to help refugee children, click here. 

*Name changed for protection

Farah*, 12.    Farah* features in the photo 'Child Labour' by Patrick Willocq. Many Syrian children in the Anjar Refugee Camp in Lebanon are forced to work to help support their families. 

Farah* works in a field close to Anjar removing bad crops in the middle of a field. This means she has to miss school most of the time because she has to support her family. She works long hours in the hot sun often bending down or on her hands and knees removing bad parsley and sometimes picking potatoes. She complains that the work hurts her back, she gets regular headaches and there is no water provided. The camp leader gets paid $11 per day and only gives her $8 and he saves the money for her only getting paid once per year.  

She and her sister do not go to school as they are have to work to support their seven sisters and two brothers. There father stayed in Syria to work, so now they are the only breadwinners for the family as their mother has to stay at home and look after the young children. 

Farah* says:

"Every day my job is like this: I take the weeding fork and weed among the cabbage or the parsley. I take out the weeds with the knife. We bend down; we take out the weeds then pull up the soil.

"What makes me very tired is that I have to keep bending down. When we try to stand up they ask us to bend down. So, we spend around three or four hours bending; then at breakfast, we take a fifteen-minute break. We spend the whole day like this."

The End of a School Year that Never Began

downloadIf your children are like mine, June is filled with excitement for the end of the school year and the prospect of a summer of fun. My daughter just graduated from 8th grade and I remember well the excitement of my older sons when summer rolled around.  But for the 3.2 million refugee children around the world who are out of school, they can only dream of being in a classroom. Their school year is not ending, because sadly it never began.

Refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than other children. Over the summer, Save the Children will be pushing hard to ensure that every last refugee child has access to education and is learning.

Education sets children up for success, provides hope and opportunities for the future, as well as a sense of stability and normalcy for those who are overcoming traumatic events. It also prepares children with the skills needed to rebuild and help develop their home countries if and when they return.

It’s crucial that no refugee child is out of school for more than one month after having had to flee their home in search of safety. While that may seem like a tall order to some, there is no technical or financial reason that the international community cannot come together to make this principle happen.

Equally sad, tens of thousands of children around the world, if not more, will likely spend their summer fleeing conflict, be it on foot through the desert, in a rickety boat for hundreds of miles across the Mediterranean or Andaman Sea, or stuffed in the back of a crowded truck by human traffickers. This year alone, nearly 3,000 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean, and we are hearing reports that 34 people, including 20 children, were found dead in the Sahara desert just last week. In 2015, nearly 400 people died in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, not by drowning but because of starvation, disease and abuse by smugglers.

3-year-old Syrian girl Salwa* puts her shoes on with the help of her mother before the leaves her tent to go outside and play with her friends. Additional Information In response for the winter storms that are hitting Lebanon Save the Children staff members in Bekaa valley, in the the eastern side of Lebanon visited refugees and offered them weatherproofing kits. Plastic sheets and wooden timbers were also distributed to help refugees support their tents.
3-year-old Syrian girl Salwa* puts her shoes on with the help of her mother before the leaves her tent to go outside and play with her friends.

We need to work harder to ensure that children on the move are better protected. Girls and boys who are forced to leave their homes, sometimes separated from their families, are at significant risk of abuse and exploitation. Such long and dangerous journeys also negatively impact children’s physical and mental health. Focusing on education and counseling can make all the difference.

Too often refugees are thought of in the abstract. Today, on World Refugee Day, it is critical to remember that refugees are people like you and me. They have had to leave their homes, and everything they know, in search of safety and security. These people are struggling through unthinkable circumstances, and deserve the same rights, protections, and respect as we all expect.

I will always remember a visit to the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan a few years ago near the start of the Syrian conflict.  When I asked a 15-year-old boy there, one who had been a star student at home in Syria, what his future held, he told me, “I have no future”.  It’s not what we should hear from a 15-year-old boy.

We need negotiated political solutions to the multiple conflicts forcing families to flee their homes, from Syria to South Sudan. But for the child who is 10 years old yet has never been to school, the dream is simply safety for her family and to attend school. World leaders, aid organizations and private corporations who care about our future can and must do more to make that dream a reality.

Syrian Children Have a Right to Go to School

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David Skinner

Director, Education Global Initiative, SCI

Lebanon

February 16, 2016

The statistics are difficult to fathom. There are 1.4 million children who are affected by the war in Syria who are of school age and who are living as refugees in the neighbouring countries: Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. More than half of these children are out of school.

Over the last three years, Lebanon alone has taken into its public education system 150,000 children who are refugees from the conflict in Syria. Accommodating an additional 150,000 children in schools in the United Kingdom would be a challenge. But in Lebanon the proportions are different. In Lebanon there are only 150,000 Lebanese children in the public education system. So the influx of refugee children has meant that every state school in Lebanon has had to double in size in the last three years. Every school – double the size. 

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Syrian children attend classes at a Save the Children supported school for refugees in Tripoli, Lebanon.

In addition, the children who are joining the schools have been subject to severe stress. They have been moved from what was once the security of their homes in Syria. They have seen things that no one – let alone a child – should ever see. And their families are under severe economic stress because of the great difficulty that refugees have finding work in Lebanon. All of these factors are significant barriers to accessing the educational system in Lebanon.

The Lebanese people deserve enormous credit for what they have already done to help Syrian children go to school: schools have introduced a two-shift system; teachers are working longer and longer hours to support the refugee children.

But it is not enough.

There are a further 150,000 children who should be in school, but are not. Although teachers have received some support to help them assist severely stressed children with learning, more needs to be done. Although there is an enormous need to provide support for the youngest children, the provision for pre-school support for refugees is pretty much non-existent.

I am writing this in Lebanon, where I came to look at the kind of support that Save the Children is providing already, as well as the support that we should be providing in the future. Education is a human right, and it is the means by which society equips children with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in the world. It also saves lives, protects and builds peace.

The Bekaa Valley is – on a good day – a 60-minute drive from Beirut (the Syrian border is only 60 minutes away). It is beautiful: snow-covered mountains on both sides of fertile pasture.

In the gaps between the houses and on random fields in the agricultural areas, landlords have let out spaces to communities of refugees for informal settlements. These consist of flimsy shanty huts. It is the children in these settlements who we are supporting.

One of our projects involves providing early childhood support. We have helped communities find the space and the materials to run early childhood development activities for three to six year olds. The spaces are temporary. We use tents or unfinished buildings; buildings that the owner had started to build but are now unfinished shells. We rent the shell, put in polythene windows, carpets and partitions, and create a serviceable space.

We have also helped find Syrian refugees to act as facilitators (very often refugees who were fully qualified teachers in Syria) alongside facilitators from Lebanon. The centres are packed with young children. They are playing, they are singing. They are drawing and coloring.

But, above all, these children are developing their skills. They are learning how to socialize with children of their own age. They are understanding what a book is; how to hold a pencil. They are sorting objects and starting to understand basic numeracy. This is all done through fun activities and play. Activities that would be recognizable in pre-schools across the United Kingdom.

The centers are very popular with the children and with their parents. It is the sight of children engaged and happy and learning, despite the horrendous experiences they have suffered, that confirms that the work you do is having a genuine and positive impact on the lives of some of the most deprived children.

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Syrian children attend classes at a Save the Children supported school for refugees in Tripoli, Lebanon.

The other activity I visited was a homework support session. I was quietly skeptical about this when I saw it on my itinerary. It sounded a little trivial. But witnessing the reality made it clear quite how wrong I was.

Children from Syria are taught in Arabic. In Lebanon they are taught – after the first few years – in either French or English. Children who have left Syria have very often had to miss significant parts of their education because of instability at home or because of the journeys that they have had to take. They find learning in the Lebanese system hard. So we are helping them.

Most Syrian children attend the afternoon shift of the schools. In the morning we run sessions for a couple of hours, where they can get additional support for their learning. Save the Children’s support goes well beyond simply making sure they do the exercises they have been assigned for homework. It’s effectively remedial help across all the subjects that they are learning. The sessions are wildly popular. The group I visited had forty children in a small – very small – room with four teachers who were providing fantastic assistance. Despite the cramped conditions, the children were taking extraordinary steps in their learning.

Children like the ones I met in the Bekaa Valley have suffered enormously. They are facing an insecure and uncertain future. They don’t have – no one has – any idea when they will be able to go back to their homes in Syria. But they are determined that they are not going to be left behind. They are determined to do what they can to learn. Their parents are determined to help them. And we are determined to make sure that they have their right to learn fulfilled.

To learn more about our response to the Syria crisis, click here

Searching For Family In Idleb City, Syria

*Muhamad

Save the Children Aid Worker

Idleb, Syria

April 2, 2015

It was Friday evening when I got the call. My family inside Idleb city wanted me to help them get out, to escape the fighting and airstrikes. It was two days before I was finally able to get there and in that time I could not speak to them as all the lines were down. I didn’t sleep those two nights. Sunday morning I was in a car with two of my friends, all of us searching for our families who we had lost contact with, going back to our home city that we had not seen for more than two years.

The journey to Idleb felt so long because we were so silent thinking about how the city would look. We held our breath as we crossed deserted check points. We were three grown men in a car with eyes full of tears shouting, “We are here; we are inside our city; we are finally here.”

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(Photo not from Idleb)

All around were destroyed tanks and cars, holes gaping in the sides of the buildings. After a few streets we drove past the main fuel station that had been destroyed by an airstrike. Then we reached a hospital in the city center that was still on fire after having been hit by an airstrike; it was here that those caught in the latest fighting were brought, the injured and the dead.

Finally I arrived at my street. With teary eyes, I jumped the stairs and knocked at my door full of happiness. ‘Open the door, it is me, I am back!’ But there is no response. Sitting on the stairs I feel hopeless wondering, ‘Where are they? Are they safe? Is Lara my niece crying and waiting for me to come back as I always promised I would?’

Disappointed with myself for being late, I struggle down the stairs. As I reach the street, I see three dead bodies left on the pavement in front of my house.

Driving around the city in an attempt to find my family I stop at a number of schools that now stand abandoned although you can still see the children’s drawings attached to the fence. I met three teachers I knew who were very concerned about their relatives and their students. A teacher said to me with a sigh, ‘Do you know Mohammed R? His child is a student in my class. Their house was destroyed by an airstrike yesterday night; I don’t know what happen to them. I hope they are alive.’

As we stood watching a group of children in the street, another of the teachers said, ‘Poor children, they have lost everything. They lost their happiness, their education, and their dreams! Who is going to help them.’ He did not know that I am now working for Save the Children.

I kept driving and saw the fear on the faces of people staring up at the sky and a few minutes later, I heard a big explosion close by. Driving away, I saw a family of three adults and five children squeezing themselves into a small car. All the children were crying and a woman was saying to a girl of about seven and a boy of about five, ‘My dears don’t cry, the aircraft is far from us.’ Once they were in the car they left, one of the many families fleeing the city for somewhere a little bit safer. Moving out the city are trucks and cars filled with people, searching for somewhere to stay. Many are moving in with extended family members, into collective shelters, others into makeshift camps on farmland in the hope of safety that in Syria is always so elusive.

Most of the services in the city have stopped, although a few shops are open and some organisations are providing emergency food and other help. One of my friends is a doctor, and he said that because there is no electricity throughout the city he is worried about the vaccines stored in the medical stores. Another friend’s sisters told me that the government building where all the students’ records are stored is in an area where there is frequent shelling and airstrikes. If these are lost, what happens to those children’s futures?

Since the fighting in Idleb started over two weeks ago all children have stopped school and amongst the thousands of people who have already fled Idleb are many teachers. My sister is one of these. She is worried about how and when she will be able to start her work again. All these teachers need a way to support their families and are now looking for other sources of income. Education is so important to people in Idleb, and before this latest fighting attendance at the schools in the city was very high – at odds with much of the rest of the country. Education is what parents tell me is one of their major concerns for their children. But with teachers and families dispersing, schools filling up with displaced families, or even targeted in the fights, where will these children go and who will teach them.

Finally after driving through my city for hours, I go back to my house hoping that my family might be there. They weren’t but a neighbor tells me that they managed to leave the city and are now in a town two hours away. I have still not seen my niece Lara, my sister or the rest of my family but at least I know that for now they are safe.

* is a pseudonym

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“Nothing for the winter”: Syrian refugees already feeling the cold in Egypt

Meg-Pruce

 

Meg Pruce, Information and Communications Officer

Save the Children, Egypt Emergency Response

November 15, 2013

 


This week has been the first time I have felt the cold since arriving in Egypt six weeks ago. My morning walk to work now feels noticeably autumnal – however much the palm trees along the way might make you think otherwise. Thankfully my ‘just in case’ attitude to packing means I have a nice warm jumper I can put on during the chillier nights. From my conversations with Syrian refugee families and children, however, it is clear that many of them do not have this luxury.

 

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Ali*, aged three, takes a look at the adult and baby winter blankets being distributed by Save the Children and local partner staff

“We thought that we would only stay three months, and we came in the summer so we didn’t bring any thick clothes”, Osman* tells me during my visit to one of Save the Children’s Child Friendly Spaces, where Syrian refugee children can play and share their experiences in a safe environment. Osman is thirteen years old and lives in an underprivileged area of Greater Cairo. His family came with enough savings to stay temporarily, but as the conflict in Syria drags on, this money has now dried up and Osman’s family remains displaced. He tells me that it started getting cold two weeks ago, and what they really need are heaters for their home. Even with his two brothers working, however, the family are struggling to pay the rent – leaving little money for the winter items they need.

 

Osman’s story is echoed by Rana*, aged twelve, who I meet in another area of Cairo where many Syrian refugees have settled. Last winter, Rana’s family simply stayed inside as much as they could. This year, they remain unprepared for the upcoming colder months. Describing her current home, Rana tells me “there is nothing for the winter”. All they brought from Syria were some blankets, she says. Neither of her parents work, so they cannot afford to buy warmer clothes for Rana and her brothers and sisters. Rana explains that their Syrian neighbours are having similar problems: they arrived without anything for winter – not expecting Egypt to be cold – and have no money to buy what they need. 

 

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Syrian children receiving their blankets from Save the Children. Save the Children are distributing adult and baby blankets to 1865 vulnerable Syrian refugees to help protect them during Egypt’s colder winter months.

Save the Children has already distributed adult and baby winter blankets in the two areas I visited, helping to protect 1865 vulnerable Syria refugees against the cold. While people’s situations are similar, it was also made clear to me that each family has specific needs depending on their circumstances, which is why we are tailoring our plans to provide freedom of choice. We are looking into using a flexible voucher system so that people can buy the non-food items (NFIs) which best suit their family. This way, whether it is a room heater, carpets or cosy clothes that people need, they can decide for themselves.

 

After hearing the children’s experiences, it gets me thinking about winter in Egypt. The country certainly doesn’t have a reputation for needing to wrap up warm, and the winters are a lot milder than in many countries within the Syrian region. However, handling the colder months is all about preparation and having the right resources. Not knowing how long they will stay for when they flee their country, many refugees simply do not have a choice.

 

*Names have been changed to protect identity

 

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