“I used to learn French when I was in Syria,” 14-year-old Rawan says after she finishes reading a book from one of her favourite subjects, English, to her brother, 6-year-old Khaled. “But in Jordan, students learn English.” Now, she explains, her goal is to master the language, “because it will help me to get a good job one day. I want to be a journalist, and English will be valuable.”
Rawan’s mother, Manal, brought her six children to Irbid in January 2013. “We were displaced twice in Syria,” Manal says, describing how the volatile, dangerous environment kept her children out of school. “I took them to two different schools, but they became more like shelters for those running away from the war. They were not safe, let alone conducive to learning.”
After the family reached safety in Jordan, the children were able to recommence their education with support from United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Rawan and her sister Rawad, 10, who wants to become a doctor, will soon begin their second year in the UNRWA Irbid Town School. Khaled has enrolled in the first grade, and according to his mother, is very excited to be going to school for the first time.
The three siblings are among 202 Palestine refugees from Syria who will attend UNRWA schools in Irbid. The education they will receive is a crucial element of their recovery from displacement, helping to restore routines and normalcy and allowing them to make new friends. Helping these students resume their education is in many ways the first step in helping them rebuild their lives.
“My kids witnessed terrible things – bombs, gunfire and even dead bodies – and that still scares them,” Manal says. “They are getting better here, but sometimes they remember things. I just try to make them forget.”
Children and students have been particularly vulnerable to the ongoing conflict in Syria, with school closures and displacement depriving many of an education. During times of emergencies, fruitful partnership with the European Union has enabled UNRWA to provide Palestine refugee students from Syria with education while also addressing their other needs, for example by recruiting and training psychosocial counsellors.
Listening to her read to her brother, it’s easy to picture Rawan fulfilling her dream and studying journalism after she graduates from high school. When the first bell of the school year rings at the Irbid Town School, Rawan may well be the most excited student on campus – despite being a new student in a new country, adjusting to many changes.
The EU supports UNRWA efforts to improve access to education for Palestine refugee children