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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We recently visited Mount Merrion in Dublin where the community, particularly its children, are on a mission to support Concern’s work with Syrian refugees.
It all started in November last year. Fr. Tony Coote, Mount Merrion parish priest, read an article in The Irish Times about the plight of a Syrian family recently arrived in Ireland.
The quiet, middle class lives of this couple and their three daughters had begun to crumble as bomb explosions drew nearer to school, home and work.
Surrounded by death and violence, they made the decision to flee to Damascus and follow a cousin to Ireland.
“We raised €15,000 in one weekend and €10,000 another weekend," he told us.
"We’ve created a fund to rent a home for the family in the area and they’re settling in here. I went on George Hook and sourced a new job, and the girls are now all in school in the area.”
While the community has done Trojan work to welcome the family, South Dublin is not free of ugly bias against refugees.
Discrimination again reared its head when it came to sourcing accommodation, as Fr. Coote explains.
“Some people wouldn’t give them accommodation when they realised they were refugees, but we found a landlord that actually lowered the rent to help. There are good people everywhere.”
This family was on the road to reclaiming something of a normal life, albeit far from home. But what of the many others?
Thoughts in Mount Merrion soon turned towards the millions of Syrian refugees surviving in camps. Particularly the children.
Concern’s Brid Kennedy addressed a public meeting on the situation for Syrian refugees. Hearing the plight of these millions of desperate families galvanised the community into action. And the pupils of the local primary school, St. Treasa’s, were eager to get involved.
“We wanted to help the Syrian kids because when we learnt about what they had gone through, we saw how fortunate we are. We talked and learnt a lot about how lucky we are," sixth class student, John Gilsenan aged twelve, explains.
Fiona Hagerty, aged eleven, adds: “We knew there was a lot of poverty, people who were driven from their homes and now have no houses. What touched me the most was that there are kids there who are our age – just like us.”
The young pupils of St. Treasa’s made up their minds to send a message of hope to young Syrians from Ireland. They decided to dedicate the profits of their annual “Novelty Day” – where children sell used toys and organise games and raffles – to Syrian children in Turkey.
“The children were aware of that image of the boy on the beach that touched so many people last year," says teacher Brian Caddigan.
"It’s a current issue, it’s happening right now. The pupils were really taken by it and wanted to focus fundraising on it.”
Weeks of work went into the preparation – gathering toys from every class in the school, approaching local businesses for raffle prizes, organising games. On the day, the young fundraisers succeeded raising over €4,000 for Syrians in Turkey, which they presented to Concern’s Claire Concannon at their recent graduation ceremony.
Claire presented a picture story drawn by Syrian children to express their experiences – their sadness but also their gratitude to the children of St. Treasa’s for reaching out to them, for not forgetting them.
To date, the parish of Mount Merrion has raised €15,000 for the people of Syria.
And the efforts of Fr. Coote and his team, like those of community groups and fundraisers across the country are ongoing.
Every day, thousands of people are working diligently and often invisibly for the most vulnerable in their own communities and across the world.
As the father of the Syrian family now in Mount Merrion told the Irish Times: “I will never forget this favour. I will not forget this country because they helped us; they saved us from death.”