|An adolescent girl attends the computer course offered by the UNICEF-supported Refugee Vocational Training Centre in Damascus, Syria.|
By Pawel Krzysiek
DAMASCUS, Syrian Arab Republic, 22 June 2010 – Rana came to Syria in 2005. She and her family joined the ever-increasing Iraqi community in the Jaramana suburbs of Damascus. Heavily dependent on humanitarian aid and deprived of any regular income, the family exhausted their savings last year, and Rana’s parents had to return to Iraq temporarily.
“We ran out of money and my parents travelled to Baghdad to sell what remains of our properties,” Rana recalls. “I stayed here with my brother. It is still too dangerous for us to go back.”
Denied formal employment opportunities and facing high living costs, many Iraqi refugees in Syria – like Rana and her family – struggle to survive. A difficult financial situation and weak parental control within the refugee community exposes Iraqi adolescents to the risk of abuse and exploitation. Distressed by their past experiences and coping with the frustration of their families, many are left to lead their lives in Syria practically alone.
‘Creating new opportunities’
In a challenge to this status quo, UNICEF, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and the French Institut Européen de Coopération et de Dévelopment (IECD) last year launched a vocational training centre for the most vulnerable adolescent refugees in Syria.
|The Refugee Vocational Training Centre in Damascus, Syria uses a referral system to identify vulnerable adolescents who can benefit from its services.|
With additional support from the Danish Embassy, the Refugee Vocational Training Centre offers both training and psycho-social assistance. It is a part of UNICEF’ Adolescent Empowerment Programme, a holistic intervention based on peer education.
“We empower adolescent refugees by creating new opportunities for their development and participation,” says UNICEF Adolescent Development and Participation Programme Officer Mohamad Kanawati. “It is a preventative mechanism that aims to challenge the adolescents’ insecurity, fear, anxiety, confusion and lack of clear goals.”
The centre’s mission is to increase professional opportunities for adolescents upon their return to Iraq or resettlement in a third country. “I know that one day I won’t be a refugee anymore,” says Samar, 19, a student in a secretarial course offered by the centre. “I came here because I want to learn new things to survive.”
According to IECD Project Manager Benedicte Gilet-Bourgeon, the vocational training programme provides a unique opportunity to enhance adolescents’ skills at the same time as they socialize with their peers. “Our work is based on the competency approach. We offer professional training in a supportive and adolescent-friendly environment that aims to prepare them for the future,” says Ms. Gilet-Bourgeon.
Space for creativity
With a curriculum supported by SARC, UNICEF and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, the centre also involves Palestinian adolescents in running its life-skills training sessions and provides the space for youth-led initiatives.
|Young people involved in the Refugee Vocational Training Centre in the Syrian capital express their ideas through rap songs, presentations and documentaries.|
“Youth want to participate,” says Ms. Gilet-Bourgeon. “They come to us after at the end of the training and ask how they can continue to be involved. It is amazing to see their commitment.”
Aiming to take young refugee voices beyond the centre’s walls, the students produce short documentaries and perform rap songs about the challenges of adolescent life and their goals for the future.
Rana is a member of White Flower, one of the music groups that have formed at the centre. “I feel strong inside,” she says after her first public performance. “Sometimes, sitting at home, we don’t realize how many ideas we have.”
Her father adds: “I am proud of my daughter, seeing her on the stage. I agree that she is at a difficult age and there are many challenges too, but our support is what she needs from us the most.”