Sitting on the sands of the Mediterranean Sea near the Egyptian port of Alexandria, 11 year old Nada, a refugee, asks her mother if they’ll be returning to Syria. Her mother is non-committal:
Yes of course, my dear, very soon.
In reality, Syrian children like Nada may not be able to go back, as Syria’s conflict rages on. Marooned in Egypt, they miss their families, homes and schools. Nada often points her finger in the direction of the sea towards Syria, where her father was left behind. But Nada’s life is different now.
A refugee in Alexandria, separated from everything she loved back home, she shares a rented flat in a crowded city neighbourhood with 12 other people, including some of their former Syrian neighbours.
Nada attends a local public school, which she says is too crowded, with a syllabus and learning methods quite different from her school in Syria. When Nada and her mother escaped from their northern Syria town, there was intense fighting all around.
The girl was horrified, she was shivering, crying and held me tightly.
She looks pale and is clearly anaemic, as her mother doesn’t have enough money to provide her with good food.
Due to the difference in accents, Nada isn’t able to communicate with her Egyptian classmates. She has no friends either. She only has one wish: to go back home and re-join her school, which may not exist anymore. Like hundreds of other Syrian refugee children in Egypt, she may drop out of the school if not supported.
Her mother clearly worried and concerned for Nada says:
She isn’t able to follow the lessons at school. She says she doesn’t like to sit in huddled classrooms. The toilets in schools are too dirty and not girl-friendly. She is too distracted and her behaviour has changed.
Nada is just one of thousands of Syrian children facing tremendous challenges in coping with refugee life in Egypt. Although the government of Egypt has allowed Syrian children to enrol in public schools, their access is hampered by lack of resources for fees, school books, uniforms, high student-to teacher ratio and shortage of basic amenities in public schools. Some school drop outs have even started working to contribute towards the family income.
Plan International is supporting children, like Nada, to go back to school by supporting Syrian families with fees and other school materials for their children.
To help children who have fallen behind in their studies, we are providing remedial classes for Syrian children to follow up the lessons and better understand the Egyptian Arabic accent.
To ensure that local Egyptian teachers have the skills needed to support Syrian refugees, we’re providing training child-centred teaching.
We’re also promoting better socialisation between Syrian and Egyptian children through sports and recreation.
And for those children who need to talk about their experience of fleeing their homeland, we are organising psychosocial support.
One of the challenges that refugee families face is the inability to earn an income to pay for education, healthcare and to help them integrate in the local community. We’re rolling our livelihood activities for women, young men and girls such as vocational training and micro-enterprise start-up grants to boost family incomes and boost social integration and normalization.
Still, much more remains to be done for girls like Nada, and their families.
*Nada’s name has been changed to protect her identity.