Rafat in Idlib pursues education despite eye problem

UNICEF’s learning centre brings happiness and hope to out-of-school children in Syria

Rafat standing in a class
UNICEF/Syria 2021/Dadoul
05 December 2021

"On my first day of school, violence forced it to close." Rafat, 9, has overcome several challenges to learning how to read and write. In addition to being displaced multiple times due to violence, he has also navigated severe visual impairment. Despite this, Rafat has successfully learned how to read and write over the past year while attending an Eudcation Cannot Wait (ECW)-supported learning centre in Idlib, northwest Syria.

In a camp in the countryside of the governorate, Maysa watches her son, Rafat, with pride as he completes a school assignment. She explains how his education had been negatively impacted due to the frequent displacement the family experienced over the past three years. “After fleeing our home village, we suffered greatly until we found a safe place to live. My four children, between 3 and 14 years old, were unable to enroll in school for almost two years, since there was no school nearby.”

In September 2020, a learning centre was opened with support from Education Cannot Wait (ECW) in their neighborhood. Once Rafat's mother learned about the program, she immediately registered her children in it. Now Rafat and his sister regularly attend the learning centre together.

At first, Rafat refused to continue going to school due to his vision problem and the bullying that he experienced from his classmates. However, support from his teachers and participation in psychosocial support activities helped him make friends and become confident. Through the established referral mechanisms at the learning centre, Rafat was connected with an eye doctor for examinations and other services. Through ECW funding, Rafat was also provided with eyeglasses that ultimately helped him concentrate on learning. He now loves attending school and looks forward to being successful in his studies.  

Rafat says, “I was unable to attend school for nearly two years due to my family being displaced. Now, I am able to attend school and learn from my Arabic teacher, Mr. Ahmad. I love Mr. Ahmed and interacting with my sister and friends in class. My teachers taught me to read and write in a way that was easy for me.”

Ali, one of the teachers in the camp, talked about the progress Rafat was making. “When Rafat started attending class, his academic level was low due to dropping out of school for such a long time. Even though he is 9 years old, we had no choice but to enroll him in the beginner level class. I worked hard with him to overcome his vision problem by letting him sit in front of the board, encouraging him to do his best and motivating his classmates to support him.”

Rafat writing on a whiteboard

Despite being behind his peers, Rafat explains, “through attending school, I realized how beneficial education to my future is, and that it will help me succeed in life.” Rafat was able to complete two cycles of non-formal education over the past year. In September 2021, he began his third cycle.

"We hope that we can return home soon and live in safety. The learning centre brings happiness to Rafat – he is now more active and gets high marks at school,” says Rafat’s mother. “My children have struggled so much from displacement; having access to education gives them the ability to have a brighter future.”

Rafat wearing a UNICEF backpack.