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Nihad and her nine children fled Syria in 2012. The family now lives in Jordan, where a charity provides housing to widows and children.
Adjusting to new schools in a foreign land has been a big challenge for Nihad's children, to say the least. Only four of her eight school-age children are currently attending classes.
Through Skype and a translator, my IDEO.org colleague Charla and I were able to speak with the entire family about their transition. Here are some of their thoughts and observations, translated from Arabic:
Work Instead of School
Nihad's eldest son Abdullah was an honor student back home in Syria, but he is no longer enrolled in school. Instead he is working as the sole provider for the family.
"Since his dad died, Abdullah is giving himself to his family and to his sisters. He quit school at 18. He said 'I want to stop going to school. I want to take care of my family.' He doesn’t want his sisters and his family to need anybody... He does all kinds of different kinds of odd jobs here and there, thank God. He worked in bathrooms. He worked as a waiter in restaurants. He would wipe the floors, clean, a janitor. After this bad time passes I hope, God willing, that he goes back to his studies."
Time Away from School
Nihad's 14-year-old twin daughters, Rawan and Bayan, are also not in school. They enrolled when they first arrived in Jordan, but it became too difficult emotionally.
Rawan & Bayan:
"When we went to Shmeisani in West Amman I took one and a half semesters. I’d like to finish my school. It was a big change for us. We lost a lot of days of our education, it’s very hard to make it up. Maybe next year I will go back."
"Back home we used to go to school with our friends. And now I don’t feel like going to school by myself."
Quality of Education
Four of Nihad's children are attending school. She describes her family's experience with "second shift" classes that refugee children, like hers, can access.
"The afternoon class is from 12 to 3. I don’t know what they can study in three hours a day. They can’t get enough information or enough instructions in this short time. We’re very thankful to them but I’m looking at my kids and I don’t think they’re responding well to this... The truth is when we came here, they really tried to help us. They opened their schools to us, for the children. We thank them very very much. But we’re talking about a lot of people. They don’t give us enough hours, they don’t give us our basic educational rights."
Missing the Comforts of Home
Nihad and her children mentioned the psychological effects of being refugees numerous times during our interview. They said grieving the loss of their father and missing the comforts of home make it difficult to focus on their education.
"When we moved, they didn’t find schools that are suitable for them. Back there they were with their friends and you know they got used to it. Here, these things affect their psyche, when you change the area... We don’t have anybody. We feel like we’re strangers. Nobody is from our community."
Classrooms: Good and Bad
Nihad's children have mixed emotions about their new learning environments. While her two youngest boys enjoy school, her 10-year-old daughter Khadija describes it as a difficult environment.
"The classrooms are chaos, the children don’t mind, they don’t listen, they are always fighting and the teachers are always yelling at them. I’m the only one who’s quiet but I don’t get any of the lesson because the classroom is chaos. And classes are mixed boys and girls."
Nihad says she's grateful to Jordan's King Abdullah for providing a home for them. But she looks forward to a better future for her kids.
"We’re just looking for an opportunity. In the two and a half years that we’ve been here there’s been no opportunity for my kids. Life is not just sleep and eat and that’s it. I want my children to become something. I want them to make an impact in their lives. All I’m thinking about is that they get educated. I pray to God to grant them the opportunity, that charitable people will help sponsor them for their education. That’s all I’m hoping for, the only thing I really wish for them is just the education of my kids. And I don’t want anything else. I’m not looking for anything else other than them getting educated."