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Helping ensure Syrian children do not become a lost generation

Jun 18,2013 - Last updated at Jun 18,2013

Children have no place in any war. Yet, whenever conflict erupts, they bear the brunt of the suffering.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Syria. Today, four million children are in need of immediate assistance, either inside Syria or among the vast refugee population now sheltering in neighbouring countries.

The Kingdom alone has received nearly 500,000 Syrians, over half of whom are children. The figures are extraordinary. But it is the individuals behind these numbers that are the real tragedy.

I was at the border recently and met some of the mothers and children crossing to safety. The sense of relief in their eyes as they enter Jordan is overwhelming. In many cases, the horrors they have witnessed are etched on their faces.

While many Syrian refugees end up in Zaatari camp, the majority (about 70 per cent) are living in Jordan’s towns and villages.

Starting life as a refugee child in a foreign city is tough. But schools offer a vital opportunity to start rebuilding these children’s lives before it is too late.

Classrooms give these children some sense of normalcy and hope. They offer physical protection and a space in which friendships and trust can be rebuilt.

During a recent visit to Zaatari, I met 13-year-old Zeina. She attends one of the UNICEF/Ministry of Education schools in the camp, funded by the European Union and Germany.

Zeina told me of her dream of becoming an architect — and her hope that one day she will help rebuild her country.

Outside the camp, many other Syrian children attend local Jordanian schools, which run double shifts to accommodate the large number of extra students. Thanks to the dedication of teachers and principals, and the generosity of the Jordanian people, many schools have opened their doors to Syrian children.

Unfortunately, evidence shows that there are still some 140,000 Syrian child refugees in Jordan who are not attending school for various reasons. Some boys are put to work to help earn an income for their families. Girls can sometimes be pressed into early marriage by families desperate to cover next month’s rent.

Other families may be unaware that schooling is an option at all or feel that their children have missed too much tuition time to catch up.

Many children are convinced that their time in Jordan is only temporary. Yet when you speak to them, children like Zeina tell you that school is where they want to be.

The Jordanian people and government have generously welcomed the refugees, but as the numbers rise, they need more help from the international community.

By giving this support, we are investing in the development of all children in Jordan — and helping ensure that Syrian children do not become a “lost generation”.

This incredibly important task will not end soon. Even if an end to the Syrian conflict were to be achieved this year, the physical and social reconstruction and recovery process will take a long time.

By committing our collective resources, we are helping ensure that Syrian children like Zeina are given the chance to realise their dreams.

The writer is UNICEF representative in Jordan. She contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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