Back to school brings major challenges for Syrian children
As children in Ireland prepare to go back to school this week, getting access to education continues to be a challenge for thousands of Syrian children living in Turkey.
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Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugee children in Turkey are not enrolled in the formal education system. With the support of the European Union, we have opened six new informal education centres in south eastern Turkey to help out-of-school children catch up.
Over 2.7 million Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey since the crisis began nearly six years ago. Over half of these are children. In order to provide high quality, safe education options for those who are out-of-school, we have opened six new education support centres which provide informal education programmes to Syrian children. The project is funded by the European Union through the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) department, and since the beginning of the 2016–2017 school year, it is being run in partnership with Gökkuşağı Derneği – a local NGO specialising in education, psychosocial, arts and protection programmes.
Salma* was one of the first students to enrol in one of the Gökkuşağı Derneği’s centres. She is eleven years old and was born in northern Syria, where she lived a comfortable life with her family until the war broke out.
When she was six years old she started primary school in Syria. She did very well in school and had many friends. “Rima was my best friend and we went to first and second grade together,” she told us. “But when we were in third grade the war started. The only thing I knew about it was that it was bad.”
Salma’s brothers and father were the first people in her family to flee Syria. After a few months her father returned for the family. Salma recalled events around their departure from Syria:
“My father came back from Turkey for us. My parents did not speak a lot about the war in front of me. But then one night I heard my brother and father talking about how we needed to leave Syria as soon as possible because the violence was getting much worse.
“Not everyone in my family could make the journey. One of my brothers and my sister had to stay in Syria so that they could take care of my grandmother.
“When it was time to say goodbye, Rima came to my house. She drew me a heart and gave me her school bag and earrings. We were very upset that we had to say goodbye. When I came to the border with my parents and brothers, even though I was happy to be leaving the war, I was upset to be leaving my family and friends.”
When Salma’s family settled in south-east Turkey she felt isolated and was worried she would never make friends like the ones she had left behind at home. The thought of going to a Turkish school scared her: would she make friends? would she be able to understand what was going on if she didn’t speak Turkish? What services were available to support her? Uncertainty shrouded the issue for her and her parents.
However, when Salma’s brother heard about the Gökkuşağı Derneği’s education support centre, where Syrian children could learn Turkish and receive the support they need to transition into the formal school system in Turkey, a ray of light shone for her. Salma explained, “This news was like sunlight for me. After settling here I really missed being in school and even though I was worried about going to a Turkish school I wanted to learn Turkish and make Turkish friends.”
Salma’s brother brought her to the education support centre and helped her register in the informal education programme. “For the first time I felt like I did when I was in school in Syria. I felt comfortable because my teachers welcomed me and treated me like a friend.”
At the end of the first term Salma had developed a strong foundation in Turkish and was ready to transition into third grade in the Turkish formal school system. Her teachers from the education support centre helped her family enrol her in a school where she is now flourishing. Reflecting on her time at the education support centre she said, “I knew I was in the right place, the centre is like my second home. I had lost my childhood and my teachers helped me get it back. I am now ready to study in a Turkish school because my teachers helped me learn Turkish and adapt.”
I would like to thank my teachers and everyone who supported me learn. My fears, my worries are behind me. My feet are getting stronger now. I know I am not alone. I will not be abandoned. This has made the education support centre is unforgettable place.
*Names changed for security purposes