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At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

From shoemaker to student: Aleppo teenager goes back to school

© UNICEF/ Syria Arab Republic 2016/ Khudr Al-Issa
Wahid lost three years of education after fleeing his home seven times in five years. He now attends a school for internally displaced children in the town of Bseireh in coastal Tartous.

By Yasmine Saker

Forced to flee fighting seven times in five years, 14-year-old Wahid from Aleppo has lost out on years of education. To support his family he left school to work as a shoemaker, but a UNICEF education bursary means he can now afford to get back to his studies.

TARTOUS, Syrian Arab Republic, 19 December 2016 – When a UNICEF team first met 14-year-old Wahid a few months ago, he was fetching water for his family in ‘1070’, a complex of unfinished apartment buildings in a neighbourhood of western Aleppo.

One month later and the area was a conflict zone. Wahid and his family were forced to flee without their belongings for the seventh time since the conflict started nearly six years ago.

“My husband was at work when we started hearing explosions getting closer and louder,” said Wahid’s mother Fatima, recalling the day they left the 1070 complex. “Wahid was so composed the entire time. His brother and sisters were crying and clinging on to me, but he kept a straight face and made sure all of us got out safely. I wanted him to cry and be the child he is,” she added.

>> Support children affected by the Syrian crisis

© UNICEF/ Syria Arab Republic 2016/ Khudr Al-Issa
Wahid at his favourite spot by the sea. “I like to draw things on the sand and watch the sea wash them away,” he says. “I also like to watch the fishermen. I used to work next to a man who sold fish on a carriage in Aleppo and he taught me so much about the different kinds of fish."

Forced to leave school

When the family arrived in Bseireh, a town in the coastal governorate of Tartous, Wahid and his family decided it was time for him to leave school to support his family.

“Once again, we lost everything and I wanted to help my father provide for my three siblings,” Wahid explains. “I’m the eldest and I have a duty to take care of everyone.”

For two months, Wahid worked as a shoemaker in Bseireh, making 3,500 Syrian Pounds (US$7) per week to help his father, who works in construction, bring bread to the table. “They were paying me well because I have experience,” he says. “I’ve worked as a shoemaker in Aleppo every summer for the past three years.” 

© UNICEF/ Syria Arab Republic 2016/ Khudr Al-Issa
Wahid studying at his new home in the town of Bseireh. At 14 years old, Wahid should be in Grade 9 but is in Grade 6.

A new beginning

Wahid had already lost three years of education and was close to losing more as the need to make an income took priority over schooling. In mid-September 2016, a UNICEF team visited Wahid and his family as part of a follow-up activity with children recently uprooted from Aleppo. 

The team encouraged Wahid’s family to re-enroll him in school. UNICEF provided Wahid with an education bursary to help ease the family’s financial burden and allow him to catch up with his peers. Bursaries are one of UNICEF’s many education programmes that support children who are at risk of dropping out of school due to financial hardship.

Wahid enrolled in the same school in Bseireh with his siblings and is now in Grade 6 – at 14 years old he should be in Grade 9.

“I’m happy to be back at school,” says Wahid. “I want to be either a lawyer or an engineer, but definitely not a shoemaker,” he smiles.

>>  Learn more about the humanitarian needs of Syrian children



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