Every number has a name
Fourteen million children in Syria and the neighboring countries are among those affected by the brutal conflict that has gone on for more than four years. 7.5 million Syrian children are in need of humanitarian aid. 2.6 million children are no longer in school and close to 2 million have fled as refugees.
After working in development for 25 years, I can’t help but think of each of these numbers as a name – a child with hopes and dreams for their future.
One name I think of repeatedly is Ali. Ali, his mother and two brothers fled the war in Syria and took refuge in Lebanon. At only 14 years old, Ali works three jobs to support his family. He has no time for school.
“It is simple, if I don’t work, I cannot survive,” he says.
No child should have to choose between education and survival, but Ali is not alone. In the world’s conflict-affected settings, 28.5 million primary school-age children are out of school. Of this number, 2.8 million children are Syrian.
There are more Syrian children of school-age in Lebanon than there are Lebanese children enrolled in classes, seriously compromising the capacity of the education system to deliver quality education to all children affected by this enduring crisis.
Protecting children through education
Children in conflict zones often experience extreme inequality when it comes to education. The formal education system breaks down when faced with the learning needs of such large numbers of children. There are language, social and development issues.
Out-of-school children, particularly those displaced by conflict, are subject to exploitation and abuse, early marriage, the worst forms of child labor, and recruitment into armed groups. These children are unlikely to reach their full potential.
Child-focused aid agencies like World Vision provide what help they can to salvage the lives and futures of children affected by conflict. They provide training and resources to aid formal education and Child-Friendly Spaces for play and psychosocial support. They help children return to a normal routine by offering structured activities, games and informal education. These spaces provide an important platform to disseminate life-saving messages around health and safety.
Samer, another 14-year-old boy in Lebanon, is also making difficult choices and sacrifices just to get a basic education. He’s walked for miles in the rain to attend remedial classes provided by World Vision.
“I know it’s not a school, but I learned so much,” he says, speaking of the classes. “I love learning. I wish I could live in a school.”
We can’t afford to lose a generation of children
A childhood safe from violence is a precondition for healthy, educated and prosperous societies. Syria’s children lack these basics and could become a lost generation.
As leaders discuss the post-2015 sustainable development goals that will replace the Millennium Development Goals at the end of this year, the new framework must commit to ending all forms of violence against children, and include targets on increasing their access to quality education and protecting those affected by conflict.
We cannot forget that once the Syria crisis is over, children like Ali and Samerwill be the generation to rebuild Syria. Are we providing them with the education they need to become productive adults and active members of society?
Right now the answer is no.
Q is grateful to partner with World Vision, the leading expert and educator for global humanitarian relief, community development and advocacy. Read more
Photo Credit: Jon Warren for World Vision