8 year old twins, Abdullah and Falak live with their family in this small room in Lebanon, after escaping fighting in Syria.
When I ask children living in Lebanese refugee settlements what it’s like compared to life in Syria, I expect complaints. But safety is worth many hardships.
“We don’t hear the missiles and gunfire anymore, we were very frightened there,” eight-year-old Falak tells me. “We feel safe here,” adds her brother Abdullah.
While many of the children struggle to remember life in Syria before the fighting, when they do, they talk passionately about the things they miss.
I’ve heard kids reminisce about fun things like riding their bikes and playing football, as well as things I take for granted like regular showers and proper meals, but the one answer that I hear again and again from older children is school.
They miss their school, their friends and their teachers.
The situation is so dire for Syria’s refugees – and the settlements often look so temporary to me –that it’s easy to overlook the importance of education. And yet, some of these children have already been here for two years, and there is no date for their return.
A generation on pause
I worry that without education, these children will be a forgotten generation, just surviving, waiting out the war. Their whole life paused, except that they are still getting older. Some of them will be adults before this conflict is over.
Of everything I’ve seen and heard over the past month, the thought of these children and their future is what worries me most. I think about it before I go to sleep, when I wake up and on the car trips to and from the refugee settlements where we work.
I see Mahamed and Ahmed whose gentle seriousness made them seem older than they were. I see the friendly, hopeful Falak and Abdullah, and so many others with uncertain futures.
Yesterday, a mother named Safaa echoed my thoughts with a passionate plea. “I don’t care about where we live or what we eat,” she said. “I want school for my children.”
She knows it’s not just about today but about the future.
Without education how will the children who’ve experienced so much violence and lost so many things have a chance for a normal life? How will they have the tools to express their experiences, and the choices and opportunities to enable them to move on as adults?
Most importantly, without education, how equipped will these children be to build a future where their children feel safe, where they don’t fear the sounds of gunfire and missiles?
Why there’s reason for hope
World Vision’s work in education here in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley is exciting – because it has the potential to make such a huge difference to children, and to the future of Syria.
The program is called an accelerated learning program and it works with children for three months to get them to a point where they can enrol in a local Lebanese school.
With some help, these children have a chance at an education and the opportunities that come with it.
It was a pleasure to visit the small demountable classrooms where sessions in Arabic, English and maths were being taught. The children in the English class greeted us, and shared all the ‘a’ words they had been learning, and I felt hopeful and grateful.
I still worry though. As thousands of refugees leave Syria every day I wonder where continued funding will come from to support the program – when just the basics of water, shelter and food are needed so urgently.
And if we can’t help these children to go to school – what happens to Ahmad, Mahamed, Falak and Abdullah?
As Safaa said to me, “this is the next generation, if they are not educated, how will anything change?”