News / Middle East

    Scholarships, Tutoring to Save 'Lost Generation' of Syrians

    A Syrian refugee boy holds up a placard in Arabic, during class at a remedial education center run by Relief International in the Zaatari Refugee Camp, near Mafraq, Jordan, Jan. 21, 2016.
    A Syrian refugee boy holds up a placard in Arabic, during class at a remedial education center run by Relief International in the Zaatari Refugee Camp, near Mafraq, Jordan, Jan. 21, 2016.
    Associated Press

    Until recently, Syrian refugee Eyad Zoulghena only had bad options.

    The 22-year-old, forced to quit law school when he fled his homeland in 2012, could choose to keep working in a supermarket in Jordan to feed his parents and four siblings, effectively putting his future on hold. He could risk a dangerous sea journey to seek his luck in Europe. Or he could return to war-ravaged Syria.

    Now a first opportunity has opened up for Zoulghena - European Union-funded college scholarships for displaced Syrians in Jordan. The pilot program includes 270 such grants now, with a promise of hundreds more in the coming months.

    Zoulghena has applied, along with more than 5,000 other Syrians desperate to resume higher education they could otherwise not afford.

    If he doesn't get a scholarship, “you'll see me next summer in Germany,” said Zoulghena, speaking recently at Jordan's Zarqa University where Syrians crammed lecture halls to hear more about the EU grants.

    As the Syria conflict drags on, such scholarship programs signal an attempt by international donors to shift from mostly emergency humanitarian aid to long-term programs, including education and job creation in Middle Eastern host countries.

    Coming up with ways to get hundreds of thousands of uprooted young Syrians back into schools and colleges, and to find employment for their parents will be central issues at Thursday's annual Syria aid conference, to be held in London.

    “The scale of the crisis for children is growing all the time, which is why there are now such fears that Syria is losing a whole generation of its youth”, Peter Salama, the regional director of UNICEF, said in a statement Tuesday.

    The bulk of Syrian refugees, close to 4.6 million, still live close to home, mainly in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.

    However, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have headed for Europe over the past year, some driven by increasingly tough conditions in regional host countries. Many say concern for their children's future is pushing them to make the dangerous trip across the Mediterranean.

    The often chaotic influx has helped shift European thinking about aid in recent months; Germany's Economic Cooperation Minister, Gerd Mueller, said during a Jordan visit last week that it's “20 times more effective” to improve refugee lives in the region than it is to help them once they get to Europe.

    “We want to encourage young people to make a choice here for their future,” said Job Arts, the EU's head of education programs in Jordan. "The whole risk of getting lost at sea and in Europe itself, this is a very difficult situation.”

    In addition to college scholarships the EU also supports, in cooperation with the British Council, three-month language courses for 2,800 students, said Arts. Other offers include several hundred grants for vocational training and distance learning.

    Still, the situation is bleak.

    UNICEF, the U.N. agency for children, estimates that close to 3 million Syrian children are not in school, including 2.1 million inside Syria and more than 700,000 refugee children.

    In host countries, some refugee children drop out to work and help struggling families, or because they missed too much school and can't catch up. Others are told there's no room in crowded local schools.

    One of the stated goals at the London conference is to get all Syrian refugee children back to school by the end of the 2016/17 school year.

    In Jordan, more than half of about 630,000 Syrian refugees are younger than 18, including 228,000 of school age, according to UNICEF.

    Of those, some 82,000 - or more than one-third - are not in school, the agency said. Trying to fill the gap, UNICEF runs dozens of centers across Jordan, where out-of-school children get some schooling, including the basics in English, math and Arabic.

    Even for refugees who are enrolled in school, the way forward - getting into college - is filled with obstacles. Most can't afford to pay Jordanian tuition costs.

    In Jordan's U.N.-run Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees, set up in 2012, school initially wasn't a priority for new arrivals. Many thought they would just be staying for a few months or were too traumatized to focus on studies.

    This led to low achievement. In 2013, only four out of several dozen high school seniors passed college matriculation exams, or “tawjihi,” camp officials said.

    Trying to help, UNICEF partnered with the aid group Relief International to run remedial classes for students of all ages in Zaatari and the smaller Azraq camp.

    On a recent morning, more than a dozen Zaatari fifth graders attended remedial math class. Boys stepped up to the blackboard, where a teacher guided them through adding and subtracting five-digit figures.

    Alaa al-Qaisi, a Relief International field coordinator, said he has seen gradual improvements.

    Participation in remedial classes for high school seniors rose from 60 students in 2014 to 150 in 2015, meaning half the 12th graders are now enrolled, said al-Qaisi.

    Students are more motivated because the reality of a long exile has sunk in, which means they “start looking for a future, for a good education,” he said.

    The first success stories have also helped.

    Eight students who passed the college matriculation exams in the previous round - all participants in the remedial program - received college scholarships, now widely seen as the best way out of a dead-end existence in the camp.

    Qassem Hariri, 18, one of the eight, studies Arabic at Yarmouk University on a U.N. scholarship.

    Hariri and some of his former school mates said they prefer to stay in Jordan, where they know the language and the culture. Some said they would have left for Europe had it not been for the scholarships.

    Amin Nasser, 19, who took the tawjihi exam recently and hopes to study IT, said there is no way he will stay in Zaatari.

    “If I don't get a scholarship and I can't go to Europe, I will go back to Syria,” he said.

    You May Like

    UN Observes International Day of Peacekeepers

    The U.N. honors 3,400 peacekeepers killed since first mission in 1948

    Video Rolling Thunder Tribute to US Military Turns into a Trump Rally

    Half-million motorcycles are expected to rumble Sunday afternoon from Pentagon to Vietnam War Memorial for rally in event group calls Ride for Freedom

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora