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

 

Tomorrow starts today….what the future holds for 21st century refugees.

The numbers are overpowering. The stories are devastating. The human cost is overwhelming. So much so, that much of the world seems to stand aside whilst the countries immediately affected attempt to step in and fix things.

What does the future hold? Given that our global society is experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis of our time, it will take an ongoing global response to attempt to move forward.

In December 2014, the United Nations issued their largest ever appeal for a single crisis – $8.4 billion is necessary to meet the needs of those affected by the crisis, both inside and outside of Syria. $8,400,000,000. That is almost too much to comprehend. Often, only 50% or less is actually funded.

A Report from UNHCR showed that worldwide displacement was at the highest level ever recorded in history.

59.5 million people were forcibly displaced by the end of 2014.

59,500,000 people

That was an increase from 51.2 million people from 2013.

And an increase from 39.5 million people from a decade ago.

Most alarmingly is that half of the world’s refugees are children. 

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Image 1. (2015)

“Globally, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world’s 24th biggest. (UNHCR, 2015).

“The international community has to overcome its differences and find solutions to the conflicts of today in South Sudan, Syria, Central African Republic and elsewhere. Non-traditional donors need to step up alongside traditional donors. As many people are forcibly displaced today as the entire populations of medium-to-large countries such as Colombia or Spain, South Africa or South Korea,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres (2014).

The driving force for the acceleration in the rapid climb in the number of people displaced worldwide is due to ongoing civil war raging in Syria – now the world’s single-largest driver of displacement.

Every day last year on average 42,500 people became refugees, asylum seekers, or internally displaced, a four-fold increase in just four years”. (UNHCR, 2015)

The impact on the world is being felt now. It has been felt for the past few years as the numbers skyrocket. However, the global response has been out of proportion with the level of human need. “For an age of unprecedented mass displacement, we need an unprecedented humanitarian response and a renewed global commitment to tolerance and protection for people fleeing conflict and persecution.” (Guterres, 2015).

What does the future hold for a 21st century refugee? Without a committed, global contribution to respond to the crisis, I fear that many nations of the world who are physically removed from the greatest areas of conflict will turn a blind eye until they begin to experience a personal cost themselves.

And those nations will experience this cost in years to come if they are not directly affected today. Without dramatic change, we will see a generation of children, adolescents and young adults unable to contribute to their families and/or communities due to unaddressed psychological and physical traumas faced during their childhood, the ongoing lack of education to adequately prepare them for life as an adult in a global society and the ongoing financial cost to rebuild the war torn countries after the conflict eventually ends.

However, with a united global approach perhaps tomorrow really can start today and the future pathways of millions upon millions of displaced citizens around the world can be redirected? Priorities beyond immediate personal safety from war include education.  Parents, students and community members want a society that is educated, skilled and able to wish for a better future. Education of the next generation of learners, refugees and otherwise, can ideally help to raise global citizens from all corners of the world in an effort to avoid repeating the disastrous fallout we are experiencing today.

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Image 2 (2013)

Links

Image 1. (2015). Retrieved on October 14, 2015 from https://www.mercycorps.org/articles/turkey-iraq-jordan-lebanon-syria/quick-facts-what-you-need-know-about-syria-crisis

Image 2. (2013). Retrieved on October 14, 2015 from http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/politics/5112962/Syria-refugee-crisis-is-set-to-hit-2m-in-worst-humanitarian-crisis-of-21st-century.html

 

Putting things in perspective

As Australia heads towards the start of warmer weather and into another summer season in a few months time, we begin to brace ourselves for the seemingly inevitable “bushfire” season. In fact, in parts around the country we have already seen bushfires blazing out of control, threatening communities with Mother Nature’s wrath.

I am reminded of one of Australia’s worst fires in recent years known as “Black Saturday” in 2009. With a combination of some of the worst weather conditions ever recorded for bushfire season, approximately 400 fires started on Saturday 7th February 2009. Over 1 million acres were burnt and the toll on human lives and communities was devastating. 173 people were killed by the Black Saturday fires, another 414 people were injured and over 2,100 homes were destroyed. A total of 7,562 people were displaced with entire communities having to be rebuilt.

Black-Saturday-Bushfire

In typical Aussie fashion, people stepped up. Volunteers appeared from all parts of the country ready to donate their time, energy, expertise, compassion and materials. It took considerable time, but with the dedication of many, communities and lives began to be rebuilt. The physical and psychological scars will remain with many from the events of Black Saturday, but when the crisis erupted, Australia essentially stopped in its’ tracks and did whatever was needed to help. And I’m sure the response would be similar in many other parts of the world when Mother Nature unleashes her force on humanity.

So, I now question why we seem to not be compelled to respond with as much determination or sense of urgency to the Syrian refugee crisis?

The number of people needing assistance inside Syria is estimated to be 12.2 million. That is the equivalent of the entire population of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and Darwin needing assistance. The number of refugees who have fled Syria is estimated at 4.08 million, and literally rising by the day. That almost the same as Melbourne’s entire population. The Za’atari camp is now Jordan’s fourth largest city and “home” to over 80,000 refugees currently. That is over half of Darwin’s population. More than 200,000 people have been killed in the Syrian crisis in four and a half years. That’s the almost the same as all of Hobart.

The numbers of people directly affected are enormous. The destruction and humanitarian cost is the worst since World War II. Yet, why don’t we respond to this crisis in direct proportion to its scale when you consider our ability to respond to the devastation caused by disasters such as Black Saturday? Black Saturday was a day that scarred many Australians, figuratively and literally. However, when you consider that the number of Syrian who are displaced from their country and now living as refugees is 539 times larger than those displaced by Black Saturday, why is taking us as a global society so long to respond appropriately to their plight?

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Is it because mankind has created this destruction? Or is it perhaps because we cannot imagine this being our own reality as it is so far removed from what many Australians know? Most Australians who have lived through one summer here know all too well the threat of Mother Nature during bushfire season, and when She strikes, we move in and do our best to protect one another.

Perhaps its time that we absorb the full intensity of the scale of the Syrian refugee crisis in order to better understand the humanitarian void that is desperately waiting to be filled. And it us as a global society who are going to have to fill it.

UNHCR “Day in the life” footage of Za’atari

Thanks for this post must go to one of my peers, Hendre Roelink of The Trauma Informed TeacherHe kindly shared a link to a brilliant series of short episodes shot by the UNHCR showing the challenges within Za’atari.

I have posted links to each of the 14 videos to one of my pages, which you can find here. 

I think being aware of the living conditions, the massive scale and rapid nature of how quickly the “city” is growing are key aspects that are communicated clearly through these films.

They also provide a more informed context when considering what role education has within Za’atari for the tens-of-thousands of refugee children (at the time of filming in 2013 the camp population was 130,000 with 60,000 children and only 12,000 attending school).

A day in the life…

I was recently introduced to a moving virtual reality film titled “Clouds Over Sidra” by Chris Milk.  This film lets us walk in the virtual shoes of 12 year old Sidra, a Syrian refugee girl living for the past 18 months in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan.

To put it simply, the technology used to create such a realistic experience was awe-inspiring. To become totally immersed in this space through sight and sound was somewhat daunting as the enormous scale of the challenges facing our global society suddenly became very real. I would encourage you to view it using the virtual reality platform, even if you don’t have the Google Cardboard accessory.

(Click here for more information about this virtual reality technology)

As far as the eye can see are rows upon rows of caravans, or makeshift “homes” for the 84,000 refugees who lived there when this was filmed. The nothingness of the space was overwhelming – both the natural and the manmade landscapes are almost entirely devoid of colour and “life”. We get to experience Sidra attending school, something she and her circle of friends are extremely proud of. Yet, they walk hand-in-hand along chainlink fences topped with razor wire to get to class. We also learn of the children who don’t want to go to school because they are waiting to go home to Syria.

We see “boys being boys”, still keen to wrestle and fight even after all that they may have personally witnessed. We also see boys having access to computers to play games, most of them combat ones, which must strike a chord very close to their own realities. Yet, we see the limitations placed on the girls who are not allowed to use the computers, but are eager to. However, girls are allowed to play soccer even though they cannot play it back in Syria. But, playtime comes at a cost, as does so much else in Za’atari, as they have to “play quickly” because so many other children are waiting for a turn.

Although there is safety from the war in Syria whilst in Za’atari, this temporary space has become a somewhat permanent home for thousands upon thousands of children and their families. In fact, the children outnumber the adults. For the children in Za’atari, the days, months and years spent here will be part of their childhood. No one is quite sure just how much of their childhood will be spent here. All anyone can agree upon is that it would seem that it will not be safe to return to Syria any time soon.

The Za’atari population try to survive in this ambiguous space where they don’t have a home to move on to nor one to return to. Yet, many keep hope alive by waiting for the day when they can leave. It would appear that a goal as global citizens would be to ensure that the refugees can still fulfil a basic human desire of being allowed to dream and learn and grow whilst trapped in this space.

A point in time will come when people can safely return to Syria. And it is evident by the amount of destruction there today that it is going to require the skilled assistance of educated and experienced people to rebuild communities and lives. So, what is being done to ensure this happens? With so few children regularly attending school whilst affected by the war, both within refugee camps such as Za’atari and elsewhere, we are not providing adequate education for them now or for their futures.

Watching “Clouds Over Sidra” gave me a new appreciation of the refugee situation in Za’atari and of that affecting Syria, Europe and the rest of the world. And it is prompting me to think of what can be done by the likes of you and I – the bystanders who are physically so far removed from these circumstances that we find it hard to truly comprehend that these situations are in fact people’s lives, day after day after day.

I would encourage all educators to view “Clouds Over Sidra” and to consider allowing your students to do the same. It is an experience not to be forgotten, and hopefully one that will spark conversation about this topic that will perhaps lead to positive changes for our global society.

Happy teaching.