“My name is Sheza. I’m 32 years old, but I feel much older due to the events that I have lived through - things that I would never have believed could happen. Thousands of children have died due to the war in Syria, my country, to which I still want to return, and for which there’s a growing sense of longing in my heart. One of those children was my child, Mohammed. He was only seven years old and everybody’s favorite. Like all children, he was innocent and unaware of what was going on in the world of adults. This cruel war took him from me. Can there be any greater pain in life for a mother than losing her own child?”
We met Sheza in Mersin, where she settled after having fled from the conflict in Syria. Just like millions of Syrians who have suffered the same fate, she has been trying to adapt to her new life with all its uncertainties and difficulties. But as a volunteer teacher in one of the many UNICEF-supported schools and temporary education centers (TEC) that have opened to respond to the crucial need for education of the Syrian children in Turkey, she was able to play an active role in service to her community. Through a partnership between UNICEF and the Ministry of National Education (MoNE), nearly 10,000 teachers like Sheza receive monthly incentive payments that help them pay for essential expenses like food and rent. These incentives are paid out of funds generously provided by donors like the Government of Japan.
Education must continue
More than 2.7 million Syrian refugees currently live under temporary protection in Turkey, over half of whom – 1.4 million – are children. According to recent estimates from the Ministry of National Education, about 325,000 Syrian children are enrolled in schools across the country – representing a 50% increase from the end of the last school year in June 2015. Nevertheless, it is estimated that over 500,000 remain out of school.
The payment of incentives is just one of a broad range of interlinked actions and initiatives undertaken by the Government of Turkey, in cooperation with UNICEF and partners on the ground and with the financial support of the Government of Japan, to expand access and improve the quality of education for Syrian children. In Mersin Province, 700 Syrian volunteer teachers receive monthly incentive payments, including 74 teachers at the Toroslar Temporary Education Center, where Sheza works, and the Mezitli Temporary Education Center – which were both constructed by the Government of Japan and provide education to 1,821 Syrian students. The Government of Japan has also funded the construction and refurbishment of 2 TECs, in Osmaniye and Şanliurfa provinces, as well as the provision of stationary kits, school bags and teachers’ incentives.
These interventions provide some solace to Syrians refugees like Sheza, who have not lost hope despite the hardships they have endured. “Now we live in Turkey. I am teaching my boy’s peers in a classroom where, if he were alive, he would be sitting. For Muhammed this will not be possible, but each child holding on to life will build the future of Syria. We will need each and every Syrian child to rebuild our country and to this end, our children must continue with their education,” she says.
Education Can Save the Future
“In a child’s life, education is a necessity as crucial as food and it is their natural right” said Emre Bukan, Coordinator of the Toroslar TEC. “When we are malnourished we become thinner and our health deteriorates. Similarly, if we are not educated, we are weakened and lose our strength. The crisis in Syria has been continuing for five years and the education of millions of Syrian children have been disrupted as a result. Only by having access to education is it possible for them to have hope for their future.”
Mohammed, an 11 year old who fled Syria with his family and settled in Mersin, hangs on to such hope. He says that he is very happy to be able to continue his education. When asked what he wants to be in the future, he has a ready answer. “I love my school, my lessons and my teachers. But I want to go back to Syria as soon as possible. I want to be successful at school and be a dentist in the future so that I can make my mother very happy.”