Everyone has the right to dream
Like many other children who left war-torn countries, Shabnam has not been in school for a while.
Shabnam Arab, a thirteen-year-old girl from Afghanistan is slowly conjugating a verb, in what, until recently, used to be a completely foreign and incomprehensible language.
“I sleep, you sleep, he sleeps... We sleep, you sleep, they sleep.”
Her teacher nods approvingly, while Mohamad, her older brother, is sitting next to her, visibly proud of Shabnam.
Mohamed is smiling as if he should be credited for her Shabnam’s success in class.
Shabnam and Mohamad don't have a mother. She passed away. However, their father waits for them every day after school to hear about the new things they’ve learned that day.
This is the reason that the three of them travelled thousands of kilometres – so the children can have a chance to go to school.
And to live in peace.
"Through learning I can fulfil my dreams. We came to Serbia for education in the first place and when I heard I would start going to school I was very excited."
It wasn't easy for them. They kept moving from one refugee camp to another. Changing countries. Sometimes they would sleep out in the open. But right now they are in the Asylum Centre in Belgrade, Serbia.
Like many other children who left war-torn countries, Shabnam has not been in school for a while. She has been spending her days in the camp, and just occasionally reading a book she found along the way.
Even now, her clear and quick eyes keep looking for something to spark her interest. However, when she starts talking, you can see peace and focus in them. She knows what she wants out of life.
Shabnam says she is thankful for the opportunity to learn; she knows how important education is for achieving dreams.
"Through learning I can fulfil my dreams. We came to Serbia for education in the first place and when I heard I would start going to school I was very excited," says Shabnam.
She shares her school days with children from Serbia. There are no differences between them.
"There are two Ivas, then Katarina and Branka. I still haven't memorised the names of the others," she says with a smile.
The school that Shabnam is attending is one of 10 in Serbia that have welcomed refugee and migrant children.
UNICEF, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development and the Centre for Education Policy, launched a project to support the education of refugee and migrant children in Serbia.
Shabnam and many other children living in refugee and migrant reception centres, including unaccompanied and separated children, can now realise their right to education - a right that every child is entitled to.
Everyone is provided with transportation to school, interpreters and school supplies.
"You should definitely learn something and give something back to the society and just like the society is providing me with knowledge, when I grow up, I want to give something back to the society"
Shabnam feels that she needs to repay the country that has welcomed her.
“You … have to do something for the society you currently live in, you cannot just come with empty hands and leave with empty hands. You should definitely learn something and give something back to the society and just like the society is providing me with knowledge, when I grow up, I want to give something back to the society," says Shabnam.
She and her brother want to use knowledge to make this a better world to live in.
If you ask Shabnam how she will achieve that, she has a ready answer – "I will practice law, I will be a lawyer".
Shabnam has a dream. There is no doubt that she will give it all she's got to make it come true. For now, she's practicing what comes before that – conjugation.
"I sleep, you sleep, he sleeps..."