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Adjusting to school in a foreign land

A Syrian family shares their perspective of adapting to life as refugees in a new country.

Photo of Brett Brownell

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This story was produced as part of the Amplify team's research for this challenge. You can add ideas to the challenge here.

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 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."

Future Goals:
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."


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Congrats on this post being featured in this week's highlights!

Photo of Brett Brownell

Thanks and thanks for the notification :)

Photo of yeoama

In the above article writer like to write the experience of his daughter of the very first week at school. Infect, My daugher have similar experience as you mentioned here and i like to shared at So many people like that story and she is very happy at in the school.

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Hello Brett,
this is Souhaib from Lebanon, the country that has the highest number of Syrian Refugees. I feel touched with what you say but this is only 1/4 of what the Syrian refugees are passing through. You would have much more to talk about if you visit Lebanon and see how these Refugees are living. You won't believe actually. Some of the Syrians Refugees are becoming full time students in our Lebanese schools whereas some of them are not due to the bad economical issues surrounding these refugees. As you spoke that the Eldest boy prefer to work rather to die from eating, himself and his family. My point is why don't you visit Lebanon and try to work on helping these poor refugees which the Lebanese Government is not helping them financially. They pay rent, bills, life expenses from the pocket. What can be done at this stage from your side? I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you a lot for Highlighting this matter which is expanding year after year as the number of Syrian refugees is increasing.

Photo of Emerimana Daniel Christian

Hello Brett,
First of I would like to thank you so much for sharing this story as part of the Amplify team’s research. After reading all this post, I am very much touched by this hardship conditions of Nihad’s Children. I believe that educating a refugee child is part of the possible tool that we can use to restore hope in their life. Hope for their future, hope for their family and as well as for their country once return home. Then, I ended up asking myself this question: What can be done to give young refugee people their educational rights?

Photo of Brett Brownell

Hi Emerimana (or I've heard you may also go by the name Daniel),

Thank you for you reply, and I'd also like to say that you're doing great work as a Community Champion. I've spoken with Luisa about the program and it's very exciting to see you and the other Community Champion and Managers involved in the refugee education challenge discussion.

As for this story, I was also touched by hearing stories from Nihad and her family, and was grateful that they shared with us. I also think your question is a good one. It makes me wonder if educational rights are actually a consideration in other countries. And if more could be done, as part of this challenge or in addition, to assure that any child who needs an education has access. I'm looking forward to the upcoming Ideas phase!

Photo of Shane Zhao

It's been fantastic to have both of your stories in the challenge Brett and Daniel. Likewise, we're looking forward to what these insights might spark in the upcoming Ideas Phase!

Photo of Emerimana Daniel Christian

Hi Brett,
From my personal experience, I remember a certain time when I went to my father asking him to support me as for me to continue with my educational journey. I was in grade 7 by the time I thought of dropping out of school. It was a surprise to hear from my father telling me that: “If you want you can stop your studies because I am not going to support you. Look at me, I am living a good life and I have not finish my studies.” What I want to highlight here is that in some countries mostly in Africa and more specifically in my home poorest country Burundi, educational rights are not a consideration because people are not fully aware of what is the importance of education. Children are being neglected, abused and also deprived from their right to education. I am glad to be one of the OpenIdeo community champions because my presence here will enable me to continue developing the idea I have of educating neglected children and the idea is named Neglected Children Foundation. I am currently working on a website though it is challenging because I am not a website designer but I am doing all my best. Briefly, there is a lot to be done as to ensure children are given access to education of good quality and mentored throughout their educational journey.

Photo of Luisa Fernanda

What helped you overcome what your father told you and continue to study?

Photo of Brett Brownell

Great question Luisa and I'm interested to hear your thoughts Daniel.

Photo of Emerimana Daniel Christian

As I can remember, I had a friend called Ndayizeye Christian whose Mom was a teacher to the same school where I was school. I was in the same class with NDAYIZEYE and because I was good at French and Mathematics; her Mom told me that I may help him to better understand these two subjects. At the end of the day, when my friend heard that I was about to drop out he informed his Mother who helped me. And also my foster parent was so caring and she helped me a lot. Briefly, I would say that I overcome what my father told me and continue to study because there were caring people around me who helped me.