Future under threat: The impact of the education crisis on Syria's children - Karim's story

Sunday 21 September 2014

On 18th September 2014 Save the Children released a report on Syrian children's education, which looked at the impact of the Syrian conflict on children inside Syria and in countries across the region. The report finds that:

  • Schools are being increasingly forced to close because of the conflict
  • From an almost 100% enrolment rate, Syria has now descended to the second worst rate of school attendance in the world with 2.8 million children out of school
  • Up to half of children surveyed by the agency in Syria reported they were 'rarely' or 'never' able to concentrate in class
  • Syrian refugee children in neighbouring countries are facing disturbing rates of abuse, bullying, corporal punishment and marginalisation

The report looks at the situation both inside Syria and for those children living in host countries, including Egypt. “The international community has to step up its response to ensure that we do not lose an entire generation of children,” says Save the Children's Regional Director Roger Hearn. "“We have heard from children being cursed and ridiculed by teachers in host countries, being told that they have ruined their country or to go back to Syria,” Roger said. “Others face corporal punishment at school. In Egypt alone, 30% of children we interviewed told us they were being hit by teachers and 70% are being verbally abused.”

Save the Children in Egypt spoke to several Syrian children living in Greater Cairo about their experiences of education as a refugee.

 Karim* is a 14 year old Syrian boy who arrived in Egypt over a year ago. After very briefly attending school, he dropped out and began working in a supermarket to earn enough money to pay his family’s rent.  At the moment he is not working, but will start again as soon as his father finds him a job. Although he felt proud to be able to support his family, he would like to be in school if he had the choice.

 Karim*’s story in his own words:

“I’ve been living in Egypt for a year and four months, with my three brothers and two sisters. One of my sisters was here for two months, but then she got married and went back to Syria. I am the oldest of the children now that my sister has moved away. We had to leave Syria because the fighting was very near to our house - we could see it from our windows. We stayed until things had calmed down after a big attack, then we moved to Lebanon for ten days before coming to Egypt. It is cheaper here than Lebanon, so we can afford a flat. We don’t want to spend a lot of money on rent because we want to repair our home in Syria. We want to go home because the rest of our family still live there.

When we first arrived I was afraid of the new community, but now I play with my Egyptian neighbours in the garden in front of our building and I have more friends. My friends say I now have an Egyptian accent!

At the beginning I registered at a school, but I ended up fighting with the Egyptian students. I couldn’t defend myself and my mother was afraid for me, so she took me out of school. I was only at the school for one day before I left.  I then worked at a supermarket as an assistant, sorting the goods. The job was very tiring, but I was happy to be helping my family for the money. I worked for twelve hours, from 8am until 8pm.  I was happy that I could earn enough money to cover the rent of our house. At the moment I don’t work, but my father is looking for work for me.  If I had the choice though, I would prefer to go to school. In Syria I wanted to start my own business, but here I have no idea about my future. I don’t think about what I want to do. Although some of my friends are at school, most of them are working. They have jobs at supermarkets, cafes or restaurants.

In Syria I only went to school for a short time, then left and went to work for my father. We would drive to the market and do any work we could find there. I left my school before the war, but my sister and brother were still at school during the war. Sometimes, many trucks surrounded their school and they couldn’t come home until night time. They had a lot of problems. My brother and sister are in an Egyptian government school here, and my parents can afford the fees. There are the regular problems at school between children; it is not because they are Syrian. They enjoy being at school here. It is easy to integrate within the community, and we have no problems with our accent.

It doesn’t matter how far away my new job is, because in my old one I had to take two kinds of transport to get there. It wasn’t too expensive though. I will go wherever I can find work, and do any job I can find. My mother doesn’t work and my father is a broker for a real estate company, helping to sell houses. In Syria we had our own truck which we took to the market, so that we could find work helping people to transport things. Here it is difficult to buy a car and also it would be hard to sell it if we left, so have to find something different to do.

My mother wants to go back to Syria, but my father doesn’t. My sister lives in the area where our old house is. She says it is safe now, but my father is still afraid. He says other cities would still be dangerous. My aunt offered to take us to Sweden, but we don’t want to move there. We would travel by the sea, but we are afraid of being caught. If we were, it would prevent us from eventually going back to Syria.

 *Names have been changed to protect identity