ZA’ATARI, Jordan, 28 Sept 2014 – “How is everything with you? I wish you could come,” says Ghada. The 18-year-old is on a mobile phone chatting to her father. She is in Za’atari refugee camp, Jordan and he is in Dera’a, Syria, just across the border.
“I feel comfortable when I talk to him. I stay happy the whole day, because I’m sure that he’s fine. When we hear that there is bombing, all of us are sad,” she says.
Ghada, her mother and eight siblings haven’t seen him for a year. He’s a teacher and when they fled the conflict in their country to Jordan 14-months ago, he stayed behind to finish the school term. Now it’s too dangerous to leave.
School provides a window of opportunity
Attending one of the three schools in Za’atari has given Ghada some much needed focus and hope. “A lot of people died in front of us back home. In school we got really scared. But then we came here and when I knew that there was a school I joined straight away. The most important thing for my future is education,” she says.
Ghada is now preparing to take the Tawjihi, the final school year exams. But the tough living conditions in Za’atari provide few options when you need a quiet place to concentrate. “I have 8 siblings, all of us are in one caravan. There is no place to study,” she says.
So Ghada’s out of school time is spent in an empty classroom. “It’s much quieter here, there is no noise or commotion.” Dad’s one-on-one tuition is also missed. “He used to teach me and I understood what he taught me. He is always supportive towards us,” she says.
The final exam
It’s a short and dusty walk from Ghada’s caravan to a crossroads in the center of Za’atari camp. Here she meets three of her friends to wait for the bus. Ghada and 35 other students are taken from the camp to a local public school to sit the exams. On board, the 10-minute journey provides important last minute revision time. Today’s exam is maths. It’s the last subject, but also the toughest one, Ghada says.
Three hours later the Za’atari students emerge. “It was difficult. There wasn’t enough time. I answered in the last 5 minutes. Maths is very difficult for me,” Ghada says. But there’s a sense of relief that the exams are finished. Given the circumstances, getting this far is an immense achievement.
Two weeks later… results
Ghada walks to her Za’atari school for the last time as a student. The results are out and she’s meeting the headmistress to discuss her final marks. It’s not all good news. Ghada failed maths and English but she’s not surprised. “I expected that I would fail because I didn’t do well in those exams,” she says.
The two subjects can be retaken and Ghada knows that not all is lost. “Despite the challenges I got something. I know that this is success and I’m proud of myself. I’m not sad because I failed two subjects. I will re-sit two or three times. The goal is to pass,” she states determinedly.
Ghada clearly sees the importance of learning, not just on a personal level but for her country as a whole. “Syria will not be built by the new generation if they are not educated. There will be no doctors to treat people, there will be no engineers to build buildings,” she says. Her quiet determination suggests that she will play a key role in the future of her country.
With support from the European Union, some 120,000 Syrian children are continuing their education in Jordan.