By Wendy Bruere
MAFRAQ/AMMAN, Jordan, 13 June 2012 – On their way to school in Homs last year, 9-year-old twins Seema* and Nour* saw dead bodies in the street.
“They came home very upset,” said their father, Amjad*. “Now they are afraid of loud noises.”
The two girls stopped going to school after that.
“It was impossible to stay in Homs, everything was getting worse and worse,” said their mother, Aya*. “We used to move from neighbourhood to neighbourhood to stay safe, but now it’s all destroyed and everywhere is insecure.”
Starting a new life
The family fled to Mafraq, northern Jordan, at the beginning of April. With assistance from UNICEF and Save the Children Jordan (SCJ), the girls started attending a nearby public school a few weeks later. They had been out of school for nearly one year.
“They go to school to be with other children,” Aya said. “Nour cried a lot when she started school because it was new to her, but gradually she’s coping.”
“School is not only important for educational purposes but also for children to make friends and develop routines to help them cope with the distress they have been through,” said UNICEF Representative in Jordan Dominique Hyde.
It did not take long for Nour to settle in at her new school. After just one week she said she had already made lots of friends and was thinking about the future.
“I want to be a teacher,” she said.
UNICEF, in partnership with SCJ, helps displaced children across Jordan register in schools near their homes. SCJ staff stay in contact with the families to provide ongoing support and assist to resolve any concerns that arise.
Access to Jordanian public schools is free for Syrian children in Jordan – a right UNICEF successfully advocated for earlier this year. UNICEF supports the Ministry of Education in covering the costs involved. More than 7,300 Syrian children are currently enrolled in Jordan’s public schools, according to the Ministry of Education.
Ongoing support for displaced families
Halim*, a Syrian father who fled Homs earlier this year with his wife, Farah*, and three children, aged 8, 11 and 14, said his children’s schooling was one of his main concerns when they arrived in Amman.
The family made the decision to leave in January this year – during the school holidays – to minimize disruptions to the children’s education.
The security situation was deteriorating rapidly at that time and everyone was a target, Halim said. It did not matter “if someone was a child, an old man or a woman.”
Before they left, Farah’s uncle and cousin were killed by a bomb blast, and their home was nearly destroyed by shrapnel.
Soon after their arrival in Amman, Halim attended a UNICEF-supported awareness session with SCJ where he found out how and where to register his children in school.
The family received ongoing support. When Fadi*, 8, was bullied in school, an SCJ social worker visited the family and worked with the school counsellor to solve the problem.
Fadi said he is happy at school now. “I like all my classes and I have friends here.”
His school’s principal said that Halim’s three children are doing well academically.
“My children were afraid in Syria. They feel more secure in Jordan,” Halim said. “We feel welcomed here.”
Ensuring continued access to education
With UNICEF support, thousands of children have been reached with education referrals. SCJ Helpdesk Supervisor Saté Qudeh said of the 4,700 education cases referred to them, around 1,500 children are now enrolled in schools. Outreach activities, case management and assistance with registration are provided through the Amman office, and through focal points recently established in Ramtha, Mafraq and Irbid.
With over 21,700 displaced Syrians registered with UNHCR in Jordan, and many more estimated to be in the country, this support will continue to be crucial to the well-being of thousands of children.
“UNICEF is scaling up its interventions in Jordan to make sure all children, regardless of their status, enjoy their right to education,” Ms. Hyde said.
*Names have been changed to protect interviewees’ identities