By Toby Fricker
The school year is starting, in Za’atari refugee camp, Jordan. Fourteen-year-old Mozoun is among 30 children on a mission to get their peers back to school.
ZA’ATARI CAMP, Jordan, 12 September 2013 – A group of young girls are striding out of the school gates with a purpose. The new school year is starting, and they’re on a mission to get their peers back to school.
Mozoun, 14, is one of thirty 12- to 15-year-olds who are crossing the refugee camp, home to some 120,000 Syrians, to promote education to children and their parents.
She comes across a mother and her children hanging up washing outside their caravan. She has so much energy that her words can’t come out quickly enough. She’s determined to pass on her message.
“I love education, and I’m aware of the importance of it. People must tell others about good things that they know and not keep them for themselves,” says Mozoun.
Mozoun describes herself as an ambassador of education in the camp. “I’m so happy because I have already taken a step forward in helping students to get back to school,” she says.
Support from prominent figures
With about 30,000 children of school-going age in Za’atari, there’s a lot of ground to cover. So, the camp’s religious figures have joined the team.
At a tented mosque, Abu Omar, one of the camp’s imams, spreads the word about the value of education. His Friday sermon is delivered with passion. “I should remind you of something,” he tells the 100-strong crowd. “Through education, you can reach your highest goals.”
In times of crisis, attending school provides safety and respite. Places of learning provide some degree of normality in children’s lives, along with some hope for the future.
“Children are the ones who will build the community in Syria,” says Abu Omar. “They are the core of civilization. That’s why we care about their education.”
Targeting out-of-school children
While getting children to enroll for the new term is critical, keeping them there is equally important. During the last school term, attendance rates dropped for a number of reasons, one of which was concern over security when walking to school, particularly for girls.
Some children, such as 11-year-old Duha, have to walk more than 2 km to reach the nearest school. To put parents’ minds at ease, assembly points have been set up for children to meet and walk to school as a group alongside a teacher.
“They go to school and get back without any problems. I feel comfortable now, which gives me the chance to do something else,” said Duha’s father Mustafa.
Others simply may not prioritize education during such difficult times. “When we came to Za’atari, we forgot all about school because of the situation,” says Abu Raed, a father of seven. “Our main goal was just to follow up on news and what is happening in Syria at the moment.”
A welcome reminder
One day, Mozoun and her peers visited Abu Raed’s caravan, and their words had a direct impact. “When the campaign came to us, it reminded us to get our children to school,” says Abu Raed. “First, we keep them off the streets. Second, they go to school, learn and get certificates.”
Abu Raed’s son Mohamed is one of 11,396 children who have now registered at the three schools in Za’atari. He’s looking forward to the new term. “When my father registered me at the school, I was very happy because I will not be on the street anymore,” he says.
UNICEF supports the campaign for a return to learning in partnership with Save the Children Jordan.