By David Youngmeyer
AMMAN, Jordan, 5 July 2012 – At a large primary school on the outskirts of the capital Amman, 11-year-old Basma* and her 7-year-old sister are among around 180 children, most of them Syrian refugees, taking part in a summer camp.
“The summer camp is very nice and fun, and I’ve made new friends here,” said Basma, who has a busy schedule of English, Arabic, math, science and physical education. Some 3,500 Syrian refugee children and 500 Jordanian children are attending summer camps at 40 schools throughout Jordan in a bid to catch up on lost classes and engage in recreational activities.
The Ministry of Education, UNICEF and Save the Children, with support from the European Union, are working together to run the summer camps, which include remedial education and recreational activities that enhance the psychosocial well-being of the refugee children. Children between 6 and 18 years old are included in the remedial education classes, which run five days a week.
Safer and happier
Basma, along with her parents and sister fled their home in Syria back in February. “We wanted to get away from the violence. My cousin was shot. I was very scared and was crying for the people who got hurt,” she said.
She says that sometimes she wasn’t able to attend school because it was closed, while other times it didn’t feel safe to go out. “I felt that I was going to die when I saw men with guns.”
The family managed to pack a few things and made the long drive to the border with Jordan. They initially stayed with an aunt, who helped them find a place to live in Amman.
Basma says that she was able to continue her schooling about two weeks after arriving in Jordan. Although she was an A student in Syria, Basma feels that she is behind now and wants to catch up. She says that she is sad to have left family and friends behind, but feels much safer and happier in Jordan.
Eight-year-old Saleem* attends the same summer camp, as does his 6-year-old brother. Arabic and football are among Saleem’s favourite activities, and he has already made new friends. “I feel happier and safer to be here [in Jordan].”
Saleem left Syria three or four months ago with his mother and two younger brothers after their house was destroyed. They were fortunately visiting their grandmother at the time their home was destroyed, but felt it was time to leave for somewhere safer.
“There was shooting and it was not safe,” said Saleem, whose schooling was disrupted for weeks.
Carrying a few bags, they crossed the border on foot, arriving at the main transit facility for displaced people in Ramtha, northern Jordan. After about a week, a relative in Jordan helped them find an apartment in Amman, close to extended family.
Key to recovery
Teacher Yasmine Al-Wahsh, who teaches English at the summer camp, says that some of the children are behind where they should be in their studies, but that they are happy to be back in class. “We encourage the children, and the children also help each other.”
UNICEF Representative in Jordan Dominique Hyde says that it is absolutely vital that refugee children be given the opportunity to catch up on lost learning. “This not only allows children to be integrated more easily into Jordan’s school system, but also establishes a sense of normalcy in their lives that is key to helping them recover,” she said.
“The European Union funding covers, for example, teaching-related costs, education materials for children like the school-in-a-box, a contribution for children’s transport to and from school, and healthy snacks such as water and fruit,” she continued. School-in-a-box kits are UNICEF-provided educational supplies.
Additional components of the summer camp programme include teacher training and enhancement of the physical environment of 40 schools to promote a safer and more child-friendly environment.
*Names changed to protect children’s identities