Syrian Volunteer Education Personnel supported by UNICEF: “Education is like a golden bracelet”

Mustafa (25) is a Syrian Volunteer Education Personnel (SVEP) participating in the SVEP incentive programme. With generous support from the Government of Germany and other donors, this was the first model to provide financial support to Syrians within the framework of the Syria crisis response, in order to encourage access to quality education for refugee children. Mustafa arrived in Turkey from the war-torn Aleppo in 2014, the displacement sadly interrupting his university studies, where he studied chemical engineering. Once he was settled in Gaziantep he searched for a way to continue his education, and is now registered at Gaziantep University. He continues his studies in chemical engineering with an additional focus on social services, and is graduating this year. He became a volunteer education personnel because he wants to be able to give the same opportunity he has had to continue his education to other Syrians.

The primary objective of the SVEP incentives programme is to provide quality education in a safe environment to Syrian children. UNICEF and the Ministry of National Education in Turkey provide monthly monetary incentives for SVEP and support training programmes for all SVEP including modules on education psychology, psychosocial support, counselling, classroom planning and management, and many other important topics.

Teaching in the classroom

As he, and many other SVEP, are close in age with the children, they form close relationships that create feelings of comfort, which encourages the students to come back to education. Interacting with children in the classroom, Mustafa pays attention to the students’ needs and adapts to them. Rather than the ‘fearful authoritarian teacher’, he encourages trust and open communication with his students. He tells us that, together with the other SVEPs, they organise reward ceremonies to celebrate children who are doing particularly well. They follow up with students that seem to be struggling and give them support, showing them that they are not on their own and they can be helped by the teachers and their peers, or even by spending time at the libraries.

Coping with challenges

We asked Mustafa what the challenges he faced when trying to keep more children in education. He told us that keeping children of the ages between 12 and 18 was very difficult as parents often believe it is more economically beneficial for them to get a job and bring back money to the household, rather than spend their days at school. To overcome this, Mustafa also takes on the role of outreach worker, going to Syrian households to tell parents that “education is like a golden bracelet, when life throws challenges at you, you can always count on your gold bracelet if need be because it will never lose value. Mastering a skill at work is good but education is your insurance, security and future and provides you with so many more skills”. He also thinks it would be good to have more support for career guidance for older students, to help them better understand what kind of future benefits they can have from education.

The SVEP incentive programme has been working to increase children enrolment in education. Starting with 2,500 SVEP since 2014, expanding to meet the growing demand in refugee education in Turkey. Over 12,000 SVEP are now providing education services in 23 provinces. Over the past 5 years, the number of Syrian and other refugee children enrolled in formal education has risen dramatically – from nearly 108,000 (less than 30% of the school-aged population) in June 2014 to more than 640,000 (over 60%) today.

 “I am very thankful for the SVEP incentive programme. My monthly incentive helps to pay the rent, bills and keep me motivated, but mostly, I benefit from this programme because it’s a great personal development experience for me and can help me in my future career in social services. I also benefit from the bonds I form with the families and students, I am giving security but also receiving it, and I get a big spiritual fulfilment from the thank yous and prayers I receive.”

A joint effort

This SVEP incentive programme is made possible through a partnership between UNICEF, the Ministry of National Education, the National Postal Service (PTT), with generous financial support from the Government of Germany via KfW.