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The Syria crisis is now into its fifth year. For the adolescents entering their formative years, violence and suffering have not only scarred their past; they are shaping their futures. What does it take to give positive options to these adolescents and young people?

UNICEF and its partner, the European Institute for Cooperation and Development (IECD) are working to provide and scale up life skills and vocational training to adolescent girls and boys across Syria. In 2014 alone, 360 youth trainers coming from 68 local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) benefited from a Training of Trainers (ToT) programme that provides them with the knowledge and skills to empower adolescents affected by the crisis, particularly in the hard to reach areas. Young people from some of the worst hit areas; Damascus, Aleppo, Der Ezzor, Homs and Tartous travelled to the capital of the country to attend the four to six week training.

Participants received theoretical and practical knowledge on vocational training: household electricity; maintenance of computer, air conditioners and heating systems; executive secretariat; international computer driving license; accounting courses for local associations; and English language training. This was complemented with a life skills package including sessions on communication, presentation skills, leadership, NGO management and gender issues. The participants were each dispatched with tools on how to transfer their know-how on vocational training and life skills to the adolescent boys and girls in their communities.

Mohammed Droubi, a young volunteer at the Association of Righteousness and Social Services in Homs, attended the IECD ToT programme supported by UNICEF, specializing on air condition and heating maintenance. Upon completion, he travelled back to Homs and successfully started a course for adolescents and youth at the association, hoping to expand the training to more adolescents.

A trainer teaches a young volunteer how to maintain a computer

A trainer teaches a young volunteer how to maintain a computer

Another participant, Amjad from the Aleppo Association, has been working since the outbreak of the war on providing psychosocial support to children and adolescents and training other volunteers. He took part in the training “I had the best time in my life learning from our amazing trainer and colleagues. IECD has changed me in a good way. It gave me back my self-esteem and confidence. When I returned to Aleppo, I opened two courses and started teaching English”, Amjad says.

Nibal Qaddoura, Senior Programme Assistant at UNICEF Syria says, “We must not only think and act upon adolescents’ currently interrupted education, but we must look at the future. Vocational training gives young trainers and trainees a chance. It gives them a sense of hope and direction. It gives the trainers and trainees the opportunity to acquire new knowledge and develop skills for playing an active role in their community”

The vocational training offered by UNICEF and its partners on the ground is adapted to the needs emerging from the crisis, and it is giving adolescents positive options in the midst of violence and conflict. The investment we make today is fundamental for empowering individuals that can make positive choices, mend the torn social fabrics and rebuild their communities.

Alaa, 17, was forced to flee with this family from his home in the old city of Homs to a safe neighbourhood in 2013. When he arrived, he heard about a vocational and life skills workshop for adolescents known as the Gheras project offered by the Association of Righteousness and Social Services and supported by UNICEF. The trainers delivering the courses had benefited from the IECD ToT programme. Parallel to the course, Alaa started participating in the organization of community activities. “It helped me understand ways that I could influence my friends and peers. I also became more confident about making new friends and interacting with other people in general, including my parents, my brothers and sisters”, Alaa says. He is now officially a volunteer at the association and has started his own community initiative with other adolescents. Based on this experience, he is eager to transfer the skills he has gained to other peers and encourage them to take the training and volunteer.

The history of UNICEF-supported vocational training goes back to 2008. The programme was initially launched to support adolescent refugees in Syria, coming from Iraq, Somalia and Sudan. At the time, UNICEF incorporated life skills and psychosocial support to the vocational training, offering adolescents a comprehensive package. In face of the Syrian crisis, the programme was adapted from working directly with the adolescents, to building the capacity of local NGOs.

Participants during a session on how to maintain an air condition system

Participants during a session on how to maintain an air condition system

The approach developed is a holistic intervention based on peer education incorporating vocational training, life skills, capacity building and programme activities tailored around the needs of adolescents. Today, this approach is giving a chance to the displaced adolescent boys and girls in Syria to develop their skills, play an active role in their community, support their livelihoods and build a future away from violence. Adolescents and youth who have joined the training offered by UNICEF and its partners have spoken about how the programme has made a difference in their lives. It has given them the option to reclaim their role as positive actors in the community who choose to build a more hopeful future, as opposed to being victims of recruitment in the armed conflict.

The work underway with the main partner IECD and local NGOs is contributing to the goal of offering vocational training and life skills to an estimated 165,000 adolescents in Syria in 2015.

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