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At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

Life skills courses brighten the future for Syrian Arab Republic's refugees

By Rob Sixsmith

DAMASCUS, Syrian Arab Republic, 1 September 2010 – Ibrahim, a refugee from Iraq, admits that he hasn’t been this nervous since his arrival in Syria. His eyes flicker around a large room in the heart the Jaramana refugee suburb, which is filled to capacity with other young refugees.

VIDEO - UNICEF's Rob Sixsmith reports on life skills training for Iraqi refugees in the Syrian Arab Republic.


Then a pounding hip-hop beat begins and Ibrahim swells with confidence. He grabs a microphone and launches into a rehearsal of ‘The Graduation Song,’ which Ibrahim wrote to mark his graduation from a UNICEF-supported life skills course. The lyrics are laced with hope for the future.

Life skills

“The past wasn’t good,” said Ibrahim. “I come from Baghdad and I’ve been in Syria over seven years. After the war there was no education, no school. And now I hardly believe I’ve got the chance to graduate.

© UNICEF Syria/2010/Krzysiek
Iraqi refugee Ibrahim and friends perform a hip hop song at their graduation ceremony from a UNICEF-supported life skills programme in Syria.

“Iraqi people like me are changing because of projects like this,” he added.

Like many Iraqi refugees, Ibrahim and his fellow life skills graduates had a multitude of reasons for not returning to education. Financial burdens mean many succumb to the necessity of a job within the thriving underground economies of refugee Damascus.

Nearly a whole generation of refugees missed out on an education – one of the most significant problems facing Iraqi refugees in Syria. Vocational courses, such as the electricity diploma completed by Ibrahim, is just one prong in UNICEF’s multifaceted approach to regenerating education here.

Barriers to education

The epicentre of this drive has been the Syrian education system, where a great many Iraqi refugees already study. But other refugees cannot attend and there has been a rash of students dropping out.

© UNICEF Syria/2010/Krzysiek
A graduate of the a UNICEF-supported vocational centre in Syria.

One of the largest barriers to entry has been the difference between the Iraqi and Syrian curricula, compounded with the fact that many refugees fell behind in their studies due to the conflict.

“At first it was hard as I’d left education for four years,” said Suroor, 17. “We were strangers and the system is difficult here, but then we had extra classes. I became more daring to learn.”

Tailored remedial classes were created as part of the joint Euopean Union-UNICEF-supported project for the Syrian schools. Championed on the ground by the Danish Refugee Council, a UNICEF partner, the classes are having a significant impact.

Multifaceted approach

“We saw that Iraqi children were dropping out of schools,” said Olivier Beucher, Country Director of the Danish Refugee Council in Syria. “To keep them in, we started remedial classes. And if you look at the marks of the children in these classes, you see a huge improvement.” 

© UNICEF Syria/2010/Krzysiek
Iraqi refugees in Syria celebrate with their new life skills course diplomas.

UNICEF is working with several key partners to ensure that quality education reaches those who need it. Vocational courses – hosted by the non-governmental European Institute of Cooperation and Development and funded by the Danish Embassy – target older students, while remedial classes in schools are supported by the European Union.

The courses are also part of an effort to help Iraq and Syria meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals target related to education. The MDGs, a set of internationally recognized targets for reducing poverty worldwide, call for ensuring universal primary education by the year 2015.

“I’m so excited about the future,” said Ibrahim. “You see people saying ‘that’s a great man’. We didn’t expect graduation to happen, and we are so proud right now.”



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