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Out of Syria, back into school: Ahmed and Sarah

Tuesday 2 February 2016

Ahmed, 13, and Sarah, 12, are both back in the classroom after being forced to leave their homeland and schools in Syria.

Sarah on balcony

Both students now attend Bar Elias school in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. They are just two of around 500,000 Syrian refugee children who live in the country.

In the last year alone, more than 200,000 were brought back into education – thanks to the support of international donors, UNICEF and a Lebanese government enrolment programme.

Ahmed, 13, arrived in Lebanon in 2014.

He was forced to leave Syria with his family because of the conflict. “I left my toys there, like my toy car”, he says.

He was out of school for a year, but was registered at Bar Elias, Bekaa Valley in 2015 – a school supported by UK aid and UNICEF to help accommodate Syrian refugees.

He found it difficult at first, as the lessons in Lebanon are taught mainly in English and French, but is slowly adapting and learning both languages.

“I am glad to go to school”, says Ahmed. “On my first day we played in the playground, then we went to class and started to study, but the books were in English”.

Ahmed starts school again. Picture: Adam Patterson/Panos/DFID

Like many schools in Lebanon, Ahmed’s school now runs a morning shift for Lebanese and Syrian refugee students and an evening shift allocated just for Syrian refugees. The curriculum has been amended to help the Syrian students integrate into the Lebanese system.

Sarah, aged 12, is from Dara’a. She was also forced to flee the fighting with family her family, in 2012 – leaving her homeland, and school, behind.

“I’ve been here for three and a half years” says Sarah.

“I’m happy that the head teacher enrolled me in this school and now I can continue my education. The teachers treat me the same as the Lebanese students”.

Sarah, 12, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon Picture: Adam Patterson/Panos/DFID

“We are happy here in Lebanon but it is not my country”, says Sarah. “My country deserves me. I cannot not go to school”.

Sarah and Ahmed’s principal, Ehssan Aragi, is dedicated to educating children, regardless of nationality.

“In the end the students are all children”, he says.

“They play the same games, eat the same meals, walk the same way home. So after a while they get used to their situation and adjust to it.”

“As a head teacher, regardless of the nationality of the pupil, you deal with them as a child who needs education”

Principal Ehssan: Regardless of nationality, a child needs education Picture: Adam Patterson/Panos/DFID

There is much more to be done: we must ensure all refugee children get an education to avoid a lost generation of Syrian children.

Getting every Syrian refugee and host community child back into education by the end of the 2016-17 school year is a key aim of the Supporting Syria and the Region conference.

For more on Ahmed, Sarah and their school, visit the ‘Out of Syria, back into school’ Flickr gallery.

Photo credit: Pictures: Adam Patterson/Panos for DFID

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