"As soon as we heard about this new course offered by UNRWA, we all came running to register," exclaims Abeer Issa, an enthusiastic student of the recently launched "Child Development in Kindergarten" course.
The course is part of the ‘Employment and Vocational Education Project being run at UNRWA’s Damascus Training Centre (DTC). The project is funded partly by the European Union, which in 2006 contributed EUR2.5 million towards the four year project.
The project aims to enhance employability for Palestine refugees, and provides employment guidance and skills training. Courses are open to both men and women and include accounting, electrical and air-conditioning maintenance and secretarial skills. Women have demonstrated a consistent willingness to seek work opportunities, representing 43 per cent of registered job seekers in the project’s employment guidance offices.
"DTC wanted to launch a new and innovative course for women and allow them to do something they are really interested in. At the same time, our goal was to provide Palestinian women with skills they could use for a job at home, as after marriage some women prefer to work from home," explains Severine Meyer, the European Commission project manager.
The "Child Development in Kindergarten" is a three-month course which trains 25 women in their twenties to become kindergarten teacher assistants. The unique course was launched in Syria for the first time in March 2009.
The first two-and-a-half months of the course consist of 12 hours of lectures a week at UNRWA’s crèche, covering child psychology (including courses on advice giving, adaptation, dealing with children displaying emotional or behavioral difficulties and examining the meanings of children’s paintings), childcare, nutrition, first aid and classroom decoration.
The course lecturer, Mays Rihawy, is also the manager of Ladybird Daycare in Mezzeh. She uses innovative teaching methods, combining training material from different sources. Her work is based on her extensive practical experience and research. "I use material from Japan, Russia, the USA and Germany, as I believe there is a lot to learn from every country’s teaching methods and experience," she commented.
The students spend the last two weeks divided into groups of five and attend practical training courses in order to gain hands-on experience working with children and assisting professional teachers in dealing with real situations.
Upon graduation, some of the women will be employed at the kindergartens in which they did their practical training course, and others - helped by employment guidance officers- will approach other kindergartens to seek employment.
Four of the students attending the course are already employed. "In the class I teach, a couple of children were experiencing difficulties reading and pronouncing specific letters, one had communication problems. Our instructor taught me how to recognize the difficulties children experience, and games and exercises I can use to help them’, says Rula Mahmoud, a 23-year-old student.
To join the course, students have to pay a SYP1000 (roughly USD20) registration fee. "The project is funded by the European Commission. The registration fee paid by the students barely represents a fraction of the actual cost of the course and is not applied to generate revenue. It is a way to make students feel that the courses are of a good quality, that they will really benefit from them by getting a job and that they are not part of a charity programme. Furthermore, it encourages them to take the courses seriously –they feel more involved through their financial contribution," comments Severine Meyer.
The DTC diploma is highly valued by the community as the courses have an excellent reputation. To graduate, students must attend 80% of the courses, complete an internship and succeed in their final exams. "Moreover" Severine adds "it encourages the Palestine refugees to project a life plan for themselves, develop as individuals and become active and proactive members of a rapidly evolving society."