Zaatari’s Potential Aid to the Education Problem

Editor’s Note: All names of Syrian refugees have been changed to protect anonymity. This is a part of a larger article, which can be read here

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Young men in Zaatari struggle to find steady work, a problem only exacerbated by the absence of formal education options for most in their demographic.

Education is a crucial element in youth development, economic stability and, for many, a way out of refugee status, even if only temporarily. A number of those in the camp in their young 20s fled Syria in the middle of their university education, and even more left high school just a few years or even months before graduation.

Within these cases are those who were forced to quit school months before leaving Syria, putting them either farther behind by the time they arrived at Zaatari.

Shorouq Fakhouri, an employee of UNICEF in Zaatari Camp, explained that the Jordanian Ministry of Education determined individuals who missed three or more years of school are not eligible for formal education in the camp—creating a significant number of teens and young adults left out of traditional classroom opportunities.

“UNICEF is providing for those who dropped out of school, because the conflict started two years before this camp opened,” Fakhouri said. “We have to provide an alternative education for them [in the form of] informal education or vocational education.”

Mohamad and Adil, 22 and 21 respectively, are seeking to enroll in the informal education program for vocational skills. According to both, there is a prerequisite course in nonviolent communication that acts as the gateway to the more diverse courses options. A course in communication would come as little surprise for a camp whose first two years was largely accompanied by riots, demonstrations and hostility by the refugees toward the organizations operating in the camp. As one UNHCR employee at Zaatari explained, the refugees were arriving from a country where the police and military were corrupt and abusive. Moving into Zaatari—coupled with expectations of returning home after six months at most—many Syrians brought the mentality of the need for self-protection against security forces.

Adil explained the course as being centered on “psychological issues.”

“It’s more about how to control yourself from the inside, how to not make problems,” he said. “I think it’s useful in the camp because in the first two years the camp witnessed many issues. Now, it’s much more peaceful and stable.”

Having spent five days in the nonviolent communication courses, both now want to take courses in barbershop. Currently unemployed, Mohamad echoed the sentiments of a large number of young men: there is simply too little work.

“[Finding work is] very difficult. It’s getting more difficult to find a job here in the camp,” Mohamad explained. “Less agencies and NGOs and more people here in the camp is making it very hard.”

Mohamad and Adil gave the example of a job many more used to take that was run by one of the agencies in the camp, which used to pay 135 JD a week to “go around three days a week and help clean.” Now, that salary has dropped to 36 JD a week, they said. That’s roughly a change from 190 U.S. dollars to 50 U.S. dollars.

“I enjoy accounting, business management. I would love to go back to school,” Adil said. “This is what I miss the most, being in school with my colleagues and my friends.”

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