A Child is a Child

UNICEF supported by ECHO offers child protection services and educational opportunities for children on the move and host communities in Egypt

Karim Gamal
Syrian Children in Egypt
UNICEF/Egypt 2017/Giacomo Pirozzi
24 April 2018

Ammar Hassan, an 11-year old Syrian boy from the Syrian city of Yalda recalls how his school was completely devastated after a rocket bombarded it four years ago.

“I moved to Alexandria with my family, because of the war, and now I’m in grade four. I remember back home in Syria every Friday my mom used to take me on a picnic, but our hometown was completely destroyed because of the war. At first when we arrived to Egypt, I didn’t have any friends, and I was so lonely, but now I have many Egyptian and Syrian friends. I hope one day I can go back to my hometown and see all my old friends.”

Ammar is one of around 50,000 officially- registered Syrian children who have fled to Egypt. In addition to humanitarian assistance, UNICEF’s response to thousands of children like Ammar coming from Syria and other countries focuses on keeping children in education, giving them access to health and protecting them from any abuse including violence and illegal migration.

With the generous contribution of EUR 1 million from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) of the European Commission, UNICEF boosts access to basic education and reaches out to refugee, migrant and Egyptian children and their parents through Family Clubs of the Ministry of Health and Population (MOHP) Primary Healthcare Units, and local Community Development Associations (CDAs).

Vulnerable refugee and host community children in Greater Cairo, Giza, Alexandria, Damietta, Qalubiya and Sharkia are provided with access to community based psychosocial support and recreational activities, prevention and response to violence through parenting programmes, case management and other specialized child protection services in Family clubs and local CDAs.

These places are safe havens for children. Children can play and learn through playful activities and a counselor is available to help them overcome their trauma and also to provide guidance for their parents.

Parenting challenges can be amplified for these families due to loss of traditional support mechanisms; heightened stress in coping with their new situation; as well as experiences such as trauma and separation that may have negatively impacted the well-being and dynamics of the family.

The parenting program provided by UNICEF supports parents of Egyptian and refugee children by providing positive parenting skills; as well as, building their knowledge to be able to provide care and protection for their children and increase their resilience.

Tahany Mohamed Nour Awad, a mother from Khartoum attended the program and says it was very beneficial for her.

“Frankly, before attending this program I really had serious problems with raising my child, but this program came in handy and completely altered my perception about how to deal with my child in different situations. Now after attending this program the relationship between me and my child is more positive and constructive.”

Children from Sudan and Libya learn how to protect themselves from sexual abuse. Sudanese Community School, Miami, Alexandria. February 2017
UNICEF/Egypt 2017/Giacomo Pirozzi
Children from Sudan and Libya learn how to protect themselves from sexual abuse. Sudanese Community School, Miami, Alexandria. February 2017

Psychosocial support is a strong force for normalizing the lives of children affected by the war in Syria and other war-torn countries.

Eman el Habal is a teacher at “Agyal” or generations community school, which hosts around 60 refugee children. The children have developed a strong bond with her.

A Syrian five-year-old boy engages with his teacher in arts and crafts activities, among other children from Syria and Egypt. Agyal Community School, Faisal, Alexandria. February 2017.
UNICEF/Egypt 2017/Giacomo Pirozzi
A Syrian five-year-old boy engages with his teacher in arts and crafts activities, among other children from Syria and Egypt. Agyal Community School, Faisal, Alexandria. February 2017.

“The fear of the war and bloodshed is still on their minds,” said Habal. “By helping them to play games, giving them special attention and talking to them, we try to help them overcome that fear. We provide them counseling, as a result of which they are gradually coming out of the trauma and returning to a normal life. The smile, happiness and innocence, which should be on every child’s face, are finally coming back to these children.”

ECHO-supported child protection services provided by UNICEF in Egypt provide lucidity to the children, and can solace their hidden scars from the war.

In response to the influx of Syrian refugees, the Egyptian government granted Syrian children full access to public education. Egypt has the biggest education system in the Arab region and while the number of Syrian children has been minor compared to neighboring countries affected by the crisis, there has been challenges in absorbing additional students in an overstretched system.

For most refugee children in Egypt, access to an education is really difficult says Awad Thomas, 37, a Sudanese who fled Juba six months ago, explaining how the high cost of education, exacerbated by inflation, has made his three children’s education a second priority in his life in Egypt.

“With so few pounds, what would you use it for – to send your child to school or to buy food or to pay for the rent or medical services?” he asks.

But Awad was lucky to have received education grants for his two five-year-old twin boys and three-year-old girl through UNICEF’s partner Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and funded by ECHO.  

Awad added that without these educational grants it would’ve been impossible for him to send his children to pre-school.

Awad and his family benefit from pre-school education grants that cover the early education expenses of three children. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) premises, Cairo, May 2017
UNICEF/Egypt 2017/Ahmed Hayman
Awad and his family benefit from pre-school education grants that cover the early education expenses of three children. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) premises, Cairo, May 2017

Ranim Zarka, a Syrian refugee, says that she has received an education grant for her 5-year-old son Zayed. The grant has allowed her to enroll Zayed in an affordable private school near their home in Cairo.

Ranim’s husband suffered a war-caused injury in his leg. She fears that due to the constrained economy and the unstable employment of her husband she wouldn’t afford to send her other 4-year-old son Ward to kindergarten next year. 

The ECHO-supported programme facilitates a bi-annual education grant that for many families has enabled pre-school aged refugee children to access education opportunities at an early stage.