SEATTLE — Of the estimated 300,000 Syrian refugees in Egypt, nearly half are children. Only 39,000 of those children have been able to return to their schooling.
The barriers they face are high, with many having fallen behind due to poverty and turmoil surrounding their family’s departure from Syria. Others feel uncomfortable in foreign classrooms with unfamiliar dialects and teachers who possess a distant understanding of what they have endured.
Schools run by and for Syrian refugees in Egypt have given upwards of 6,000 child refugees a comfortable and affordable opportunity to return to education. Fellow Syrian teachers are sympathetic to the children’s experiences and their familiar dialect enables students to catch up on their missed assignments at a faster pace.
These schools also offer employment opportunity to the 2,000 refugees involved in teaching at the centers. For these 2,000 families, a teaching employment opportunity can mean the difference between providing for his or her household and being dependent upon begging and relief distribution.
For refugee-run schools like the Watan Center, the curriculum is designed to help students thrive within the Egyptian system. The center takes in students who have dropped out of school and works with them to enable them to return to their registered schools to pass examinations.
The Egyptian schools where students are originally registered only enroll them according to their age–failing to take into account that many students have spent as much as two years without an education due to being displaced from their homes.
At the Watan Center, no student is denied the opportunity for education, regardless of their family’s ability to pay tuition. However, lack of funding prevents the center from being able to provide structures like playgrounds and outdoor areas.
The weekly song and dance sessions offered to the students as compensation represent a tremendously important outlet for many of the students.
The Civilization Builders Education Center, another location offering educational opportunities for refugees in Egypt, represents the importance of education for older Syrian youth.
For these children, education is the best tool available to equip them to rebuild the home country they hope to return to in the future.
Tensions have gone through periods of escalation as the influx of Syrian refugees in Egypt has grown. Many refugees feel vulnerable and have fallen victim to crimes including robbery, kidnapping and assault.
Much of the tension is economically fueled and it is not uncommon for Egyptians to perceive the tens of thousands of unemployed refugees entering their country as a threat to their job security. For youth, much of this tension is felt in the form of discrimination, frequently manifested in the classroom.
The situation demonstrates the strain the crisis has placed on the relationship between the two countries, who initially displayed mutual warmth and an understanding that the crisis could have befallen either country.
In addition, the escalating strain marks the dire need for centers like the Watan Center and the Civilization Builders Education Center to provide opportunity in the midst of crisis.
By circumventing discrimination, and offering opportunities to students and teachers alike, refugee-run schools are of tremendous value for Syrian refugees in Egypt.
– Charlotte Bellomy