I am an educator. My hope for the children of Za’atari.

What can I do for a child

with innocence lost

whose young eyes have seen things they should not?

 

What can I do for a child

watching with a guarded stare

whose life has been changed, seemingly beyond repair?

 

What can I do for a child

filled with anger and fear

who no longer believes in dreams once held dear?

 

What can I do for a child

whose despair is shared by the faces they see

who begins to forget the child once filled with curiosity?

 

I am an educator

I strive to open minds and touch hearts

but we must transform these spaces so we can all take part.

 

I am an educator

I promise to show patience, kindness and empathy

in an effort to remind you that you are important to me.

 

I am an educator

I will offer you a safe space to learn and grow

where you can remember how to dream and strive for more.

 

I am an educator

I will encourage you to reflect and explore

so that you, too, can stretch beyond these limits that should not be your ‘norm’.

 

I am an educator

I will be here for you every step of the way

and we will work together for you to find hope again one day.

 

 

By Kayri Shanahan

 

A mission statement for Za’atari’s future learning spaces

I have recently been spending some time trying to gather my thoughts to create a relevant mission statement of what I would hope to achieve by implementing future learning spaces within the Za’atari refugee camp.

Although the process of researching Za’atari as an educational context has been upsetting, disturbing and many times overwhelming, it is also relevant and vitally important that I know. My new knowledge now empowers me to contribute to the urgent changes that are needed, whether that be by becoming directly involved myself or by ensuring my students are educated to become informed, global citizens. Or, ideally, both.

I urge you to consider doing the same.

nelson-mandela-education-quote

(Mandela, 2003).

Happy teaching.

My Mission Statement (link to page)

 

A parent’s poem to their child

Hush, little one
Rest back to sleep
Your family is here to keep you safe
Just where we should be

Hush, little one
I know you’re not feeling well
Have some of your medicine
It will work quickly to stop you feeling ill

Hush, little one
I know you were afraid
But it was only a bad dream
Here you will always be safe

Hush, little one
I know that school can be hard
Your teachers are there to help you
When you need them, there they are

Ssshhh, precious child
I know you’ve seen too much
I wish I could erase your memories
And bring you peace with my gentle touch

Ssshhh, precious child
I know your little body hurts
I would give my soul in a heartbeat
To heal the wounds you didn’t deserve

Ssshhh, precious child
I know you long to learn, grow and play
One day there will be more than this for you
I just hope that it doesn’t come too late

Ssshhh, precious child
You don’t deserve this life
I had such big dreams for you
I shall try my hardest to keep them burning bright

by Kayri Shanahan

image

 

Photographic beauty capturing lost innocence in Za’atari

This is a tragically beautiful set of photographs taken in Za’atari. They show an up close and very personal insight into one’s life who is existing whilst in the confines of the camp. They demonstrate hope, loss, fear, despair, anger, distrust and sadness. But, these are all of the things that we as global citizens should be fighting to rectify.

These images have no place being in the memories of any child when they think about their childhood. How is it then that they are there already, and more memories just like these are being formed every day with no end in sight?

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Nowhere Boy. The illusion is of a young man going somewhere when, of course, he is going nowhere. His ambitions are those of most young men his age, but his horizon stretches no further than the tent city he surveys. There is nothing in the box.”

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“Mother Courage. This young mother is in the waiting room of the French Hospital. She has just handed over her sick child to a French nurse who has walked back into the darkness of the operating theatres. She is not looking at the camera; she is looking somewhere beyond, perhaps to where her child is going. It is the look of fifty thousand women in Zaatari.

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“One Thousand Miles. There is nothing so un-nerving to the photographer as light bouncing back to his camera. It is a symbolic failure. Even if all the layers of fencing were cut away and the young man was able to stand there clearly lit, he is still a thousand miles away from you and I.”

However, there is still hope. 

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“Future Zatari 2. It is impossible, even in the Zaatari camp, to be depressed all the time. There is usually a courtesy, a kindness, a genuine interest in visitors, and an old-fashioned Syrian hospitality that still prevails. And there are the children who are the light and hope of the camp – with the proviso, of course, that they are fit and well. Here I have three candidates for future Syria. They are happy and smiling. There is hope.”

Please follow this link look through the entire catalogue of 40 photographs at Hotel Zatari – http://hotelzaatari.com/about-fw/

 

Have “we” lost sight of the bigger picture?

It occurred to me a day or so ago that as a young teenager growing up decades ago, we had limited immediate access to issues around the world beyond the daily newspapers or news reports. However, I remember the impact that many of these messages carried, perhaps because we weren’t used to seeing them constantly hour after hour in various news feeds on social media?

One example that came to mind was Bob Geldof’s Band Aid “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” song that was created by the top musicians of that time and the ability to film them all in one place singing to raise awareness and money to help the crisis occurring throughout Ethiopia in the early 1980’s. One way that I felt I could contribute was doing the World Vision 40 Hour Famine. I gathered sponsors and a friend or two who would do it with me. We sat in the luxury of my comfortable home and passed the time playing games or watching tv. Not exactly a mirror image of who we were raising money for, but we were involved. However, the whole idea of the 40 Hour Famine was to go without food for 40 hours. The only thing you could have was water and barley sugar. That was it. And it was hard. It was not pleasant towards the end of the 40 hours, even though I knew that my short period without eating would come to an end at a definite time and food would be in abundance for me again. Even still, the experience has stuck with me some 20+ years later.

Efforts such as these continue today with superstars donating their name, time and money to continue to raise awareness for global issues. And the 40 Hour Famine continues as well. However, I am somewhat disheartened that now you are able to give up anything of meaning to you for 40 hours – food, furniture, technology, talking are some of the examples given.

Really? Furniture?

This made me wonder – when did we lose sight of the fact that people around the world suffering at the hands of Mother Nature or from atrocities committed by other people do not have a choice of what they give up? These choices are made for them, and they are forced to try and survive anyway.

Have “we” become so shallow that the only way that charitable organisations can tempt us to be involved in campaigns such as this is to allow us to give up whatever we choose for 40 hours, without actually genuinely engaging with the experience to gain empathy for those people we are trying to assist?

All I know is that had I given up furniture for 40 hours instead of food, I would not have gained as much from my short experience. I also doubt that I would remember it as vividly some 20+ years later, and I am confident that it would not have become one of the lenses that I use when I look at the world today.

 

 

 

Educational starting places in Za’atari

Teachers all around the world face the challenge of providing a stimulating, relevant and engaging educational program that is going to provide the knowledge and skills necessary to try and prepare our students for life in the “real world”. How then does a teacher prepare a Syrian refugee child living in Za’atari for this? For many, their “real world” experiences have shattered any chance of the innocence of childhood. Many bear the scars – emotionally, psychologically and physically. So, how can a teacher make a difference? What educational facilities are available to them?

The children and families of Za’atari face enormous challenges as they attempt to rebuild their lives from within the confines of an indefinite future of a refugee camp. No set timeframe of how long they will be there. No confirmation of if they will ever be able to go home to Syria or will they be able to start a new life somewhere else? It is uncertainty on top of more uncertainty. An ongoing liminal space.

But, days and weeks and months pass. Children get older and as they do they are continuing to potentially miss out on opportunities which will help them now and in the future.

Although the Za’atari camp is away from the terrors of war, there is still a level of fear, particularly for girls moving about the camp. Their safety against attack and (or rape) is paramount and often this can result in girls being kept hostage of sorts within the confines of their small tent or caravan. However, so much of the evidence collated from around the world today shows that the education of girls is paramount to the overall increase in improvements to local communities and society in general.

  1. Reduction of child and maternal mortality
  2. Improvement of child nutrition and health
  3. Lower birth rates
  4. Enhancement of women’s domestic role and their political participation
  5. Improvement in their economic productivity and growth
  6.  Protection of girls from HIV/AIDS, abuse and exploitation

“Girls’ education yields some of the highest returns of all development investments, yielding both private and social benefits that accrue to individuals, families, and society”. (Educating Girls Matters, n.d)

That urge to protect their children spreads to the boys as well, and many are restricted to staying nearby their families. However, progress is being made. Even with only 2% of international humanitarian aid being allocated to education, the numbers of children attending some type of formal education whilst living in Za’atari has increased. in 2013, a UNICEF report showed that attendance across all age groups was 51.6%. The figures from 2015 show an encouraging trend amongst the younger children, but a rapid dropoff without suitable upper secondary and/or tertiary options. Some feel that this is due to the perception that the degree with be worthless when they finally return home to Syria. More likely is the lack of any suitable upper secondary or tertiary options to pursue.

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Image 1 (2015)

Many adults and children are involved in education to improve their knowledge and skills, but also to contribute to the community and help pass the time. A teacher in Za’atari said “I graduated from my law degree and I was working as a trainee in Syria”. When he was asked why he had chosen to become a teacher. “I wanted to share my education with others rather than keep it to myself,” he replied. “I’m happy to be able to give back to the children living in this camp.” (Save the Children, 2014)

The facilities of the education spaces in Za’atari are varied. Physically, spaces are split – often one area for girls, one for boys; one classroom session for boys and one session for girls. “In a camp where there is little to do it’s so important to have an outlet to keep healthy and busy. “We now go to bed early because we have something to look forward to the next day,” said a 16-year-old with a smile. “I used to go to sleep at 2am but now by 9pm I am already in bed because I have a long day of activities ahead of me.” (Save the Children, 2014)

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Image 2 (2013)

Pleasingly, though, not all of the educational resources are as basic as one might assume. For example, Relief International runs a program which is designed to cover both the educational and psycho-social development of the children.

  • A remedial education center in the camp which provides classes in Arabic, Math, Science and English for grades 1-11. The remedial classes enable the children to develop their skills and stimulate their participation in their daily environment.
  • Classes for boys are provided in the morning as their formal education takes place in the afternoon and girls come to the center in the afternoon after their classes at the main school. There are four periods of 45 minutes including one for supervised recreational activities where students can enjoy competitive and team building activities, develop their imagination and learn to interact amicably with other students in an open space and a safe and environment. Most importantly, these activities promote a sense of normalcy by giving them the space, time and right to play as children.
  • Each class has a teacher as well as a case manager who ensures the child attends the remedial education classes regularly, tracks the child’s educational progress and provides individual follow up. Their role is also to provide additional guidance, monitor children’s behavior and help identify and work with children who need further psycho-social support.
  • Community mobilizers create a link between refugee families and the center, ensuring awareness about the services provided and information of how to access it, as well as the positive opportunities that extra educational support can bring.
  • To increase the safety of the children, community mobilizers also accompany students between the Relief International center and meeting points in the camp and the main school.
  • All teachers, case managers and community mobilizers are Syrians from the refugee camp. This creates understanding and trust between staff and children as they are familiar and have been through the similar experiences, whilst also providing employment to those living the camp.
  • Other staff are Jordanian from the local town, which also provides employment for those in the host community

(Relief International, 2013. and n.d)

Upon further investigation, the motivation and desire to provide the most educationally relevant and engaging programs whilst still overseeing and managing the wellbeing of each child has commenced through the work of agencies such as UNICEF, Save the Children and Relief International, to name a few.

Perhaps the challenge now is how can these educational facilities and program models be made accessible for ALL refugee children. And furthermore, what steps are necessary to transform them into experiences that provide a comprehensive end-to-end educational model (pre-school through to Tertiary) which will be relevant and meaningful for life beyond Za’atari.

After all, that is the hope of so many refugees confined to living there.

 

Links

Image 1 (2015). Retrieved on October 15, 2015 from http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/settlement.php?id=176&region=77&country=107. Direct link –  Za’atari Camp CCFA; Education/Youth Factsheet

Image 2 (2015). Retrieved on October 15, 2015 from http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/08/jordan-zaatari-schools-syrian-refugess.html