The final exams this year came as a relief to young Syrians and Palestine refugees as the conflict continues in its sixth year. Gathered at the UNRWA Palestine School and the Said al-Ass Institute in Damascus, they expressed how difficult it was for them to prepare for their official exams amid the intensified fighting, especially in Yarmouk and Khan Eshieh.
“The fighting has recently intensified and we lived in constant fear of ongoing bombing. I would study with the sounds of bullets and shelling. My concentration was often disrupted and I struggled with high anxiety trying to stay focused on the subjects I was reviewing,” explains Haytham Matar, a student from Khan Eshieh. “I had to escape and hide when rockets fell near the school. It was horrifying,” he adds.
Originally from Darayya, on the outskirts of Damascus, Haytham is one of the many refugees who left their homes when the shelling became too dangerous in November 2012. He and his family sought refuge in Khan Eshieh camp. His case illustrates the situation of internally displaced youth whose education has been disrupted as a result of the hostilities in Syria. In spite of these dramatic circumstances, he holds onto his hope for the future and his dream of one day becoming a surgeon.
For the last four years, UNRWA teachers have developed study sessions targeting ninth and twelfth graders. This year, UNRWA welcomed students from Khan Eshieh, who for the first time had the opportunity to benefit from support classes to better prepare for the exams.
The two-week intensive courses not only prepared them to pass their baccalaureate exams but also provided them with lodging; three hot meals a day; hygiene kits; cash assistance; and the opportunity to play, relax, socialize and speak with counsellors, all of which helped them cope with the added pressure of taking exams.
Students generally achieved positive exam results, with 95 per cent of Khan Eshieh students receiving a passing mark; however, significantly lower results were achieved by students from Yarmouk, with 39 per cent of students receiving a passing mark.
In Syria, UNRWA provides vital humanitarian support and health and education services to 450,000 Palestine refugees, over 95 per cent of whom are wholly reliant on UNRWA for humanitarian assistance. Khan Eshieh camp, home to about 9,000 Palestine refugees, is located in a volatile area in the rural area south of Damascus, where spikes in violence have caused the death of at least nine Palestine refugees in recent weeks. Since 2012, the farms and fields surrounding the camp have been active battlegrounds in which heavy weapons have been deployed with often indiscriminate impact. Some 75 UNRWA staff residing in the camp strive to maintain support to Palestine refugees through limited services offered in three schools, a health clinic and a community centre. The Agency’s work is impeded by the fact that since 2013, humanitarian access to Khan Eshieh has been constrained. To receive assistance, Palestine refugees must travel at great personal risk to UNRWA distribution centers in Sahnaya or Khan Dunoun.