For most children, going back to school means returning to a familiar place and seeing old friends, but for Akram, a 12-year-old Palestine refugee in Syria, everything will be different when he starts sixth grade this fall. He used to live in Yarmouk and attend the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) Tarshiha School, but in December 2012, he was forced to flee the encroaching violence with his family, leaving behind his home, his school and a familiar way of life.
It’s hard not to be nostalgic for everything left behind: “I miss my school and seeing my friends from different classes,” Akram says. Many of them, however, have already left Syria; others, he says, have died due to the ongoing conflict. When a mortar shell landed near their home last year, Akram also lost his father. They were very close, and that loss has been particularly severe. Now, living in the collective shelter at the UNRWA Damascus Training Centre in Mazzeh, Akram and his three brothers depend on their grandmother and their aunt for the stability and support that they need.
There have been many challenges. Akram’s aunt, who helps him with his studies, says she has noticed a change in his behaviour. “He has become more aggressive and stubborn, more anxious,” she says. “These things were not there before the hardship and displacement our family has experienced.”
Akram will now start sixth grade at a school that the Ministry of Education has provided for UNRWA, and despite everything, he is looking forward to going back to school. It is part of helping fulfil a promise he made to his father, that he would continue his studies and further his dream of becoming a lawyer. “I am confident that an education will help me achieve my dreams and aspirations,” he says, and, with assistance from UNRWA, “I believe I can make a difference in the life of my family.”
“Restoring education is a top priority for UNRWA,” says Mohammad Ammouri, Chief of the UNRWA Field Education Programme. “We hope that going back to school will bring some degree of normalcy back to the lives of children who are dealing with incredibly challenging circumstances.”
UNRWA has taken a number of steps to ensure the continued provision of education for displaced Palestine refugees from Syria. For those who are unable to access their schools – whether because the schools have been closed or are being used to shelter other displaced persons – the Agency has developed self-learning materials and provided alternative schooling. UNRWA has also worked to develop video learning materials to address children’s needs. The Agency is determined to support the faith that Palestine refugees like Akram have placed in its services, knowing that the emergency situation makes an education even more important.
For more information on the Syria crisis, and what UNRWA is doing about it, go here: http://www.unrwa.org/syria-crisis