The little shepherd’s tale

On World Children’s Day, we celebrate Kazem’s story of success and return to learning

By Antwan Chndkji
Kazem, 10, attends a class at his school in Dayr Hafir village, east rural Aleppo, Syria.
UNICEF/Syria/2021/Ali Almatar
21 November 2021

I learned how to read and write with help from the volunteers. Studying became easier with them around to support,”

Kazim, 10

Dayr Hafir, east rural Aleppo, Syria, November 2021 - “My mornings start at 3:00 before dawn, because I have many responsibilities,” said Kazem, 10, describing a typical day in his life.

Since birth, Kazem grew up surrounded by conflict. When he was only two years old, his family was forced to flee their home in Dayr Hafir village, east rural Aleppo, due to escalated fighting. Over a period of four years, they were displaced multiple times. In 2017, the family was finally able to return home with respite in violence.

Kazem enrolled in a nearby school when he reached school age. “I loved school, but studying was hard, and I didn’t receive further help. Other students often bullied me because I was a shepherd,” explained Kazem, who started to miss more school days as time went by until he completely dropped out.

Kazem, 10, tends his family’s sheep nearby his home in Dayr Hafir village, east rural Aleppo, Syria.
UNICEF/Syria/2021/Ali Almatar
Kazem, 10, tends his family’s sheep nearby his home in Dayr Hafir village, east rural Aleppo, Syria.

Kazem helps his family feed their sheep twice a day. Each feeding trip is a two-hour task, that provides a part of the family’s income. After leaving school, Kazem’s life changed. In addition to attending the sheep and maintaining the piece of land they have as part of their home, the little shepherd, took on a job as a car mechanic. He fixed tires and changed car oils.

Six months ago, a UNICEF-supported volunteer saw Kazem attending the sheep in front of a UNICEF-supported centre that was opened in his home village this year. She approached him and invited him to attend sessions there. “I can’t afford to come to the centre,” said Kazem to the volunteer, who explained to him that all the activities at the centre were free of any charge.

The following morning, he went for a session then started frequenting the centre to attend all the sessions offered there. “I learned how to read and write with help from the volunteers. Studying became easier with them around to support,” said Kazem. A case manager was assigned to guide Kazem, encourage him to get back to school and help him prioritize his learning over work.

Kazem, 10, writes his homework at home in Dayr Hafir village, east rural Aleppo, Syria.
UNICEF/Syria/2021/Ali Almatar
Kazem, 10, writes his homework at home in Dayr Hafir village, east rural Aleppo, Syria.
Kazem, 10, plays with the memory game distributed by UNICEF at a UNICEF-supported centre in Dayr Hafir village, east rural Aleppo, Syria.
UNICEF/Syria/2021/Ali Almatar
Kazem, 10, plays with the memory game distributed by UNICEF at a UNICEF-supported centre in Dayr Hafir village, east rural Aleppo, Syria.

Kazem’s mother was thrilled about his decision to resume learning. After having a chat with his case manager, his parents found alternative solutions easing some of the home chores on Kazem. The mother took on herding the sheep when her son would go to school or attend the centre.

Six months after his first visit to the centre, Kazem quit working as a mechanic. Supported by his family and encouraged by his case manager, Kazem decided to continue his education and attend the UNICEF-supported centre. He made new friends and started to enjoy studying and writing his homework. He continues to help around the house but now takes the sheep for feeding once a day, early in the morning before he goes to school.

With thanks to a generous support from Germany, UNICEF-supported multiservice platform in Dayr Hafir has been providing a wide range of services for the children and parents. They engage children in educational, structured psychosocial support and recreational activities, as well as awareness-raising sessions on child rights, equity and equality between boys and girls, protection against explosive remnants of war and COVID-19 mitigation. They also reach caregivers with a structured parenting programme.