UNICEF is committed to doing all it can to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in partnership with governments, civil society, business, academia and the United Nations family – and especially children and young people.
Abdel-Hamid in his family’s home – a flimsy tent in the Tal Al Abiad informal settlement, in Baalbek. A lack of water and sanitation is a significant challenge there – as it is in many informal settlements.
By Lynn Hamasni and Salam Abdulmunem
Seven-year-old Abdel-Hamid shelters with his family in an informal tented settlement in Lebanon. Abdel-Hamid was too young to enrol in school in the Syrian Arab Republic when his family fled two years ago. Now he is of school age – and among hundreds of thousands of children who cannot be absorbed by the straining Lebanese public school system.
BAALBEK, Lebanon, 24 January 2014 – Abdel-Hamid is 7 years old. He arrived in Lebanon with his family almost two years ago.
“I don’t remember anything about Syria,” he says. “I was too young. I only remember that we travelled in a car with nothing.”
Flight from Homs
Abdel-Hamid’s eight-member family fled Homs by car with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
The family found themselves in Tal Al Abiad informal tented settlement, in Baalbek. They are among more than 184,000 families – more than 858,000 people – who have come to Lebanon seeking refuge from the violence in their country.
“We stayed in my uncle’s tent for two weeks,” says Abdel-Hamid. “His family is also large and lived in a one-room tent.
”We were eight, so the tent became too crowded. That’s why we started to build our own tent.”
Tal Al Abiad
The Lebanese people and government have opened their country to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. But, families who come here face a major challenge – the lack of formal refugee camps. Informal tented settlements like Abdel-Hamid’s are scattered across more than 400 locations, many on agricultural land with little or no access to the most basic services, such as water and sanitation.
For Abdel-Hamid, it isn’t only the lack of water and sanitation that make living in Tal Al Abiad difficult. He says the family’s flimsy tent does not protect them from rodents in the field. “I hate rats,” he says. “There are lots of them, big ones.
“They eat our food, and also bite. I am so afraid of them, especially when I sleep. Sometimes I have nightmares about them. They are poisonous. Once, a rat bit my cousin. His face was swollen, and he had to be taken to a clinic.”
(Left) Abdel-Hamid practises Arabic with a friend. He had begun attending non-formal education activities – his first exposure to school – but the sessions stopped after two weeks. “It was so nice to go to school,” he says.
In Lebanon, access to school is a major hurdle for Abdel-Hamid and hundreds of thousands of other school-aged Syrian children. Many Lebanese public schools are at capacity.
Based on current projections, some 693,000 children – including Syrian children, Lebanese returnees and Palestinian children from the Syrian Arab Republic – will be out of school and in need of some form of education by the end of 2014.
The Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education has indicated that 85,000 refugee children can be accommodated in the public school system this academic year, leaving hundreds of thousands of children outside the formal education system and facing limited future prospects and increased exposure to protection risks.
UNICEF and partners in Lebanon assist as many children as possible to enroll in public school. To date, almost 65,500 children have received uniforms, stationery, school bags and payment of council fees.
Learning to write
For children like Abdel-Hamid who live in informal tented settlements with no opportunity to go to public school, UNICEF is providing alternative means of education.
In Tal Al Abiad, UNICEF’s implementing partner SAWA set up a tent for non-formal education activities opposite where Abdel-Hamid lives. Here, Abdel-Hamid attended class for the first time; he was too young to enrol in school in Homs.
“It was so nice to go to school,” he says. “I did not know anything, but I learned to write English and Arabic alphabets.”
But winter brought a new set of challenges. The education tent in Tal Al Abiad was not winter-proof, and, with the first rain, it had to be dismantled.
UNICEF is providing winterized tents for non-formal education activities in informal tented settlements and heating for classrooms in 355 schools this winter. In addition, it aims to help 3,000 Syrian refugee children gain access to formal education by supporting the fees for second shifts in 12 schools. And, with local partners, UNICEF continues to provide access to non-formal education for tens of thousands of children across Lebanon.
Under the umbrella of ‘No Lost Generation’, UNICEF and partners are galvanizing the global coordinated effort it will take to protect the futures of Syrian children like Abdel-Hamid. These international actors have come together to expand access to learning and psychosocial support, strengthen social cohesion and peacebuilding – and restore hope for the future.
With assistance to protect them from violence, abuse and exploitation, with education to foster their minds and build resilience – and with support to heal their hidden wounds, the #ChildrenofSyria can build a better future for themselves, their families and their societies.