Jalel saves up half of his sandwich each day, so he can bring it home to his parents. Photo by Nick Ralph, World Vision
In a room full of children, Jalel stood out from his classmates.
He was smaller than most of the others. His head bowed down, withdrawn from the other children, he sat by himself carefully peeling the foil from his sandwich. He took a slow bite, and chewed it while watching his classmates giggling and chatting. He swallowed, peeled off some more foil and bit again. Then he wrapped it up.
When you walk into a room of children who have witnessed the horrors of war, you are faced with children who have aged well beyond their years, coping as well as they can with what they have seen. As well as bearing the weight of adult responsibilities, many of the children are burdened with emotional turmoil – grief, the anger, sadness or numbness – the likes of which we hope our children will never know.
Jalel’s teacher, Miss Layla, said Jalel had been keeping his sandwiches since he started classes a few weeks earlier. He took a few bites and took the rest home. As an only child it was not to share with his siblings. He was taking his sandwich home to share with his mother and father.
For many children in World Vision supported remedial education classes, that sandwich is the only sure meal they can count on. Most gobble it down so quickly, and who can blame them – they are hungry and they have been looking forward to this expected meal. But at just five years old, Jalel was worrying about the hunger of his parents.
Five years old.
A five-year-old’s biggest worry should be who his best friends are at school – not how his family will eat that evening, or where they might go if the landlord finally kicks them out of the room that they do not have any money to pay for.
A five-year old should know that if he or if any of his family are sick, they can get treatment and work towards getting better. Jalel shouldn’t have to worry about his father who has frightening diabetic seizures that could easily be controlled by medicine – if his family had the money to pay for it.
Jalel’s mother and father are so grateful for the interest that Miss Layla has taken in their son. “She heard about our situation and she knocked on the door, and told us that Jalel could go to school,” his mother said. In Jordan, where they now live, the cost of transport alone is a barrier for displaced families with no income.
World Vision’s remedial education classes focus on ensuring that children catch up on vital lessons they would have missed, that those children can also get to and from school safely and are fed while they are there. For families that were forced to flee their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs, with no money to pay tomorrow’s rent, the school is the one stable thing they can count on.
But it’s not a long-term solution. The crisis in Syria has been raging for four long years, leaving many families like Jalel’s in situations they never thought possible. The fighting has forced almost two million children – out of Syria and away from stable lives. Everyone is suffering, but at least remedial classes give some children a partial education and a chance at a future.
But they deserve so much more. Who is accountable for making sure they get it?
The challenge with ongoing crises like Syria is that interest declines as the need increases. We may not see the suffering of the Syrian people on our nightly news, but for the almost four million refugees who have lost almost everything suffering is an inescapable reality. Education can help give a future back to scarred children, and stop the child refugees of Syria becoming a lost generation.