The struggle for an education
By Mona Daoud, World Vision Lebanon
Since the Syria Crisis began in 2011, 80% of Syrian children seeking refuge in Lebanon have been unable to attend school due to the lack of available places. When World Vision set up an education programme for Syrian refugees in the south of the country, five-year-old Baker was determined that his physical disability, though it may not allow him to walk, could never stop him from learning. With help from his mother, Baker's teachers made it their mission for him to get to school safely every day.
Back in May, I met a little boy named Baker, who can stand but cannot walk. Even so, during my visit he moved cheerfully around the house using his green and black wheel chair. The surgery and treatment for his disability should have started three years ago, but the war in Syria forced him to flee to Lebanon with his family.
“The doctor told us that this surgery would allow Baker to walk,” Shayma, Baker's mother, says whilst pointing to the three-year-old prescription that she’s still carrying around today. Antoinette, one of Baker's teachers, remembers that making sure Baker could take part in the classes initially presented them with a challenge.
“At first, we were worried because the centre is not equipped. We started thinking of the simplest things; how would he reach his classroom when there is no elevator or special staircase? So I asked the bus driver to carry Baker up to his classroom."
“Now, it’s not only the driver who helps; we too go down and help him up to his classroom. Making sure that Baker makes it to his class has become our mission,” Antoinette told me.
Despite getting a place at the centre, it took a few days for Baker’s teachers to prepare for his first day at school.
"He didn't want to wait - he wanted to start straight away!” Shayma remembers.
Once he started classes, one of Baker’s favourite activities was watching the other children playing basketball. Even though he wasn’t able to run around, he’d try his hardest to join in the fun .
“While sitting, Baker watches happily as his friends play and try to score goals. You can read happiness and excitement in his eyes, although he is not running with them. He starts smiling, laughing, and clapping when the ball goes into the basket. That’s how he supports them and becomes a major part of the game,” another of his teachers, Souad, smiled.
Baker told me that he wants to become a sports teacher when he grows up. However, when he saw our camera, he began to think twice about his future career.
“What is this? How does it work? Where do we press to switch it on? I want to take photos as well when I grow up!” Baker exclaimed.
Baker joined our Early Childhood Education programme when it started in January 2015 and was one of 280 students registered at the centre. Each week, students learnt a new letter and a new number, in both English and Arabic.
“We teach students the basics, like letters and numbers, but using creative methods, like songs, stories and games,” Souad explained.
While the programme was launched to benefit Syrian children living in Lebanon, it also triggered a positive change in the lives of teachers.
“It has taught us the power of giving,” says Antoinette, who is Lebanese, and didn't realise how much the crisis had impacted Syrian families until she began teaching at the centre. “Now, I see that Syrian students are just like my children. Seeing how much they need care inspires me to give fully from my heart,” she told me.
“Teaching them has become our mission in life, not just our job,” Souad said.
“The refugee children need love and care, as much as they need education,” Antoinette added.
Sadly, the funding for Baker’s early education centre has now dried up, and the school closed in June 2015. “We are worried that students might start working to help their parents,” Souad mentions.
“Students here learned about their rights; their opinions and choices were given value. I am afraid that if they go to work, that will ruin what we are building,” shares Antoinette.
Despite its early end, there is still hope that students will eventually be able to continue their journey in public schools. “We cannot promise that all of them will go to school, due to limited spaces in public classrooms, but if there is space and they can attend, we hope that we prepared them to succeed,” concludes Elika Dadsetan, the project manager.
Baker and his classmates are just a fraction of the 1.6 million children who have now fled Syria as refugees and are now in need of humanitarian assistance and support. Our Syria Crisis Appeal has allowed us to set up safe places where children like Baker can learn and play and process all they have experienced and we believe that physical disability should not hinder any child’s access to education in any context. However, the humanitarian response in Syria is chronically underfunded. Host countries such as Lebanon and Jordan are stretched to capacity with the number of refugees and need further assistance. The UN appeal for the Syria crisis stands at $7.5bn for 2015, 37% funded.