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At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

Regional Director sees progress towards development goals with equity in Syria

© UNICEF Syria/2011/Rashidi
UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Shahida Azfar visits a classroom in the Iben Katheer child-friendly school during her trip to Syria.

By Razan Rashidi

DAMASCUS, Syrian Arab Republic, 1 February 2011 – Syria is making laudable progress towards achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals by their 2015 target date, according to UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Shahida Azfar, who recently visited Damascus and its environs.

But Ms. Azfar noted that a greater focus on the most vulnerable, through expanded partnerships, is necessary to ensure equitable progress for all children in Syria.

Between 1990 and 2008, infant mortality and deaths among children under the age of five decreased considerably in the country, but malnutrition remains a major challenge here. The 2006 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey for Syria shows, for example, that about a quarter of children under five suffer from stunting caused by poor nutrition.

This challenge is being met through the involvement of community organizations. While in Damascus, Ms. Azfar visited the Al Husainya Primary Health Care Centre, where she met a team of Iraqi female volunteers who have worked alongside health officials to increase awareness of the services offered. As a result, use of the centre’s services for improved child health has jumped by 300 per cent.

Child-friendly schools

In the area of education, Syria’s school enrolment rates are high, reaching 95 per cent in primary schools. Still, the dropout rate by the end of fifth grade, which stands at 5 per cent nationally, needs to be addressed.

© UNICEF Syria/2011/Rashidi
A girl paints at a child-friendly space run by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and supported by UNICEF at the UN refugee agency's registration centre at Douma, near Damascus.

One approach is the development of ‘child-friendly’ schools. Under the child-friendly model, schools operate in the best interests of the child – with educational environments that are safe, healthy and protective, as well as trained teachers, adequate resources and appropriate physical, emotional and social conditions for learning.

“The child-friendly school model across the country does not just make for a more pleasant teaching environment where children want to be. It absolutely ensures better learning and, later on, stronger human capital for the country,” Ms. Azfar said on a visit to the child-friendly Ibin Katheer School.

Centres of support

A child-friendly space in the UN refugee agency’s registration centre at Douma, near Damascus, is one of seven such spaces run by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and supported by UNICEF. It provides a protective environment for Iraqi refugee girls and boys, and their family members, with mental health and psycho-social support services available.

“While parents are processing their administrative papers with UNHCR, we welcome the children and work closely with them,” said a volunteer working at the centre. “It is very rewarding to see them laughing.”

© UNICEF Syria/2011/Rashidi
At the Al Husainya health centre in Syria, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Shahida Azfar speaks with a doctor and her young patient.

Since 2007, more than 20,000 Iraqi refugee children in Syria have benefited from the services of similar child-friendly spaces.

Work with partners

During her visit to Al Husainya, an unofficial refugee camp 14 km south-east of Damascus, Ms. Azfar met with young Palestinian-Iraqis in an adolescent-friendly space.

“I have benefited a lot from this project, and I wish that adolescents back in Iraq have access to such kind of opportunities,” said Lamia, a girl at the camp.

Here and at the other sites she visited in Syria, Ms. Azfar witnessed a range of partners – including UN agencies, government ministries, the Syrian Arab Crescent, the Syrian Commission for Family Affairs, non-governmental organizations and community groups – working with UNICEF to implement a myriad of initiatives geared towards achieving the MDGs with equity.



Child-Friendly Schools

Learn more about Child-Friendly Schools (CFS) and quality education

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