My name is Reem, I’m from Lebanon. On the 26th of January 2020 I found myself in a car on my way to Syria, for the first time. I was looking out of the car window, thinking about my choice to provide training to volunteer educational tutors supporting the education and psychosocial needs of vulnerable children across Syria, (a country I was anxious to visit!), rather than celebrate my birthday with family and friends in Beirut. But then I remembered it all...
The day I graduated as an education student, I promised myself and everyone listening to my graduation speech to support vulnerable children, who even in the 21st century are still fighting for their right to quality education, and through it, a decent life. In 2019, I decided to transfer my skills to a role with Caritas Switzerland’s education programme responding to the Syria Crisis.
Teaching after the war – a difficult challenge
In January 2020, I had the opportunity to provide a tailored teacher training course as part of Caritas Switzerland’s 'Ensuring Quality Learning and Child Protection in Syria' (EQUALS) project. The project, implemented by Caritas Switzerland in partnership with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), provides learning activities in three educational centres in Syria and at the same time supports tutors working in the centres with specifically tailored training to better deal with the challenges they face every day. Many of the children they are teaching have suffered interrupted learning, are performing well below expectations and have experienced a protracted conflict in their home country, which has left many of them traumatized. The tutors themselves have been victims of war and know of the importance of education to offer the children a better future.
Yet, my perspective changed when I arrived at the centres in Syria. I saw tutors laughing together in the early morning, enjoying coffee, and sharing their stories about children who come to the centre just for a hot meal, to get away from the harsh cold of their often makeshift housing, or for the sense of safety they felt being with a group of other children and with the tutors they know supported them. My heart warmed to be part of an international organization that supports children’s education and provides them with their basic needs.
With great enthusiasm, the teachers learn new skills
After introducing myself and presenting various education, social, and physiological topics, I was amazed by the interaction of the tutors and their eagerness to learn how to better serve the children they worked with. Through the training, the teachers were given specific practical tips on how to increase the children’s motivation, use participatory and playful teaching methods and work with children who are in need of special education due to trauma. Through practical exercises and role play, the teachers could immediately apply what they learned and their enthusiasm to learn and improve was obvious.
I thought that the children of the programme are blessed and lucky to have a chance to be engaged in recreational and educational activities led by these amazing young people.
'We are fighting for these children to have a future'
This experience made me realize that despite having experienced life at its worst, we can still make a change and help Syrian children believe in themselves and their dreams again. The tutors touched my heart and made me believe in my purpose. The war could not destroy the tutors’ mission to provide children in need with security, safety, and education. Despite the tragic circumstances, tutors were able not only to survive, but also to have the strength and power to give their all to rebuild the lives of children affected by conflict, and provide them with a trusted adult who was committed to ensuring they learn and grow.
I asked the tutors about what motivates them to come every day to the centre despite all the challenges they faced. They all had a similar answer: 'When I open my eyes in the morning, I think about how I would deprive the children of this privilege of learning in such a supportive environment if I do not come to the centre. This makes me forget about all my pain and drives me to serve my mission. We fight for them to survive. But when we do it, we fight with a smile. At least, we and the children have a place that we can call home.'
The course participants become friends
This tutor training was not just any experience. Since that day, I have hoped that this project continues to support these future leaders who are rebuilding communities and making them stronger, taking care of the children. Today, the tutors are my friends and the children have my heart. And, I have celebrated my birthday twice this year, in Beirut but also with these wonderful Syrian tutors, who surprised me with a very special and memorable birthday celebration in Syria!
Picture top left: Reem during the introductory session at the centre in Jaramana, a suburb of Damascus.
Picture top right: During the training, the tutors are working on a practical group activity providing inspiration for their daily work with the children.
Picture top: The group of tutors and Reem at the centre in Kafroun (Tartous) on the last day of the training.
Text and photos: Reem Bou Shaheen, Programme Officer Education, Syria Crisis Response, Caritas Switzerland