By Toby Fricker
Meet Bashir, a 13-year-old Syrian boy whose home, for the past seven months, has been Za’atari refugee camp, Jordan.
ZA’ATARI, Jordan, 15 March 2013 – Bashir and his family fled their home in Deraa, southern Syrian Arab Republic, seven months ago. But, ever since that day, when the shelling became too intense to stay, the 13-year-old’s thoughts have never left his hometown.
“I miss everything in Deraa. Living here in Za’atari camp, thank God, it’s ok, but in Syria it’s better. I don’t want anything – I just want to go back to our home country,” he says.
School provides hope
Bashir’s family were among the first group of residents to arrive at this bleak desert camp in northern Jordan, now home to an estimated 100,000 Syrians. They have since moved from their tent into a prefabricated unit, under the first-come, first-serve policy. Their single room is what the family must now call home, in both the current chill of winter and the searing heat of the summer to come.
The opening of the camp’s school in October provided Bashir with some much-needed focus. It also meant that he missed only two months of schooling.
“I like to go to school because of the education, and I like to learn English. I am continuing here so that I will not miss out on my education,” he says. “When we go back to Syria, I will continue my education, and I will be successful in the future. I want to be a doctor,” he adds, enthusiastically.
Bashir is one of 5,400 children registered at the UNICEF-supported school in Za’atari camp. As well as providing education, the school brings some degree of normality to their lives, after the stress they have been under.
With the growing number of refugees arriving in Jordan every day – in February, alone, an estimated average of 2,200 Syrians arrived every day – establishing additional educational facilities is critical. A second school is expected to open next week for an additional 5,000 children. The construction of a third has started, but it might not open if additional funding is not urgently committed.
Youth centres host activities
“Without the facilities, children would be scattered all around the camp and would be bored,” says Bashir.
When he’s not studying, Bashir can be found at one of the camp’s youth centres. This lively environment sees children and young people taking part in a range of activities, from football to basketball to painting. On most afternoons, Bashir is putting his mind to work again learning how to use the computer inside the centre’s caravan unit.
He is philosophical when it comes to learning, “Education is light, and ignorance is darkness,” he says.
More support is needed
Bashir is not the only family member keeping himself busy. His father, Nabeel, has set up a thriving business selling falafel alongside the camp’s main road. Thousands of people walk up and down the street every day, which has been turned into a large, Syrian-style souk. Nabeel’s income helps to support the family and provides some savings in anticipation of their return home.
With the growing number of refugees, UNICEF and its partners are faced with a huge task to provide clean and safe water, education, health services and child protection to the ever-growing population.
Yet, less than 20 per cent of the required funds has been raised for the interventions in Jordan. With such a huge shortfall, the task of preventing Bashir and the other Syrian children from becoming part of a lost generation is even more daunting.