Children at Beyout Amena project - Egypt Today/Yasmine Hassan Children at Beyout Amena project - Egypt Today/Yasmine Hassan

No Lost Generation

Wed, Nov. 8, 2017
Having just finished his classes, and as he was getting ready for playtime, we met the charming 6-year-old Ghaith. In a perfect Egyptian dialect, the enthusiastic little boy told us all about how he has been learning to read and do math-ematics and how he aspires to become a doctor here, in Egypt.

For a few seconds, Ghaith’s innocent smile and pure dreams would overshadow the sad story that brought him and his family fleeing from Syria to Egypt over five years ago, until he starts talk- ing about his home country, of which all he knows is that “there are missiles; and houses are being destroyed.” Ghaith resides in Sixth of October City, along with hundreds of Syrians who fled the violence in their home countries and chose their area as their new homes. In fact, out of millions of refugees who fled the death and destruction in Syria, 122,000 registered with the UNHCR in Egypt— and 40 percent of those are children. Actual figures, however, are likely much higher as many migrants reside in Egypt and work ir- regularly and informally without registering with the UNHCR.

In Au- gust 2016, the number of Syrian refugees in Egypt was estimated at 500,000, with tens of thousands of those being school-age children, according to an announcement by Egypt’s Assistant Foreign Minis- ter Hisham Badr.

With the Syrian crisis entering its seventh year, children are paying the highest price for the destructive war. Most of these young migrants had already lost out on years of critical education before coming to Egypt. Those who were old enough to witness the de- struction of their homes and the loss of their families have arrived carrying intense emotional and psychological scars.


Generous policies in an overloaded, bureaucratic system

Registered Syrian refugees legally have unrestricted access to Egyptian schools and public health services. The Egyptian law stipulates that any student funded by UNHCR is entitled to educa- tion enrollment. A 2012 presidential decree has also given Syrian children in Egypt equal access and right to all levels of education as Egyptians and full access to public services.

According to the Ministry of Education, public schools are currently hosting around 36,000 Syrian children across Egypt. Over the past six years, the ministry has also exempted Syrian children from tuition fees and provided required support to facilitate their enroll- ment, according to UNHCR data. The unrestricted schooling policy is also beneficial for other family members of the enrolled child as it provides them with a one-year residency permit, as opposed to the six months granted to all other categories of refugees and asylum seekers. But although many Syrians are praising the decisions tak- en by authorities to facilitate their lives at their new homes, others are still struggling with bureaucracy and the standard of education their kids receive in public institutions here; especially if they don’t have financial access to private tutoring.

Hala Ibrahim Bekdash, who arrived to Egypt with her family five years ago, made sure to enroll her kids in Egyptian schools “to en- able them to cope and learn the dialect of the country,” she tells Egypt Today. She adds that she has not personally experienced any problems with her children’s schooling.

“My kids speak such perfect Egyptian dialect that you cannot tell they are Syrian…they are happy here” she says, adding that she in- tegrated her children in the Egyptian society since their arrival. But that doesn’t mean it is all well and dandy at the Bekdash’s house- hold. “In terms of belonging, I am Syrian and I love my country, but this is the country where we will live; and only god knows whether we will be back to Syria or not,” she wistfully says. “My son (12) re- members Syria a bit but my daughter (7) does not know anything of Syria,” she speaks sadly.

While some are unable to adapt to the available facilities, others are still struggling with enrollment; whether due to the hectic procedures, residency papers and letters from the UNHCR or the likely loss of previous certificates, forcing students to repeat two or three academic years. “Education is the biggest challenge facing Syrians in Egypt,” says Roaa, 22, who arrived here five years ago. Unable to enroll in school, Roaa ended up attempting suicide. Having suffered from the Syrian crisis and its aftermath first hand, Roaa then decided to dedicate her life to helping and caring for other Syrian refugee children to overcome the barriers they face through volunteer work as a teacher and facilitator in several educational projects and initiatives in Egypt. “The system is not adapted to facilitate our education at all … They would make you go through a lot of trouble, administrative papers, residence and visas.” She calls for authorities to facilitate their residence permits to be able to enroll in schools.

Syrians in Egypt are also suffering from inadequate school facilities, overcrowded classrooms and vast differences between the Egyptian and Syrian curricula. Based on a sample of 1,700 Syrian refugees in seven Egyptian governorates, a 2013-2014 study by the Center for Migration and Refugee Studies (CMRS) at the American University in Cairo shows that without costly private tutoring, children often fall behind their Egyptian classmates.

Although she refers to Egypt’s unrestricted access to education policy as “very effective,” pointing out “the high, and sustained, enrollment rate in public schools,” Shaden Khallaf, senior policy advisor for the UNHCR’s MENA Bureau in Amman, says that “over-crowded classrooms and an apparent low quality of education are the main challenges facing both Egyptian and Syrian refugee children in Egyptian public schools.” Additional funding needs to be allocated to both the Ministry of Education and UNHCR education sector to build additional schools and reduce the density in classrooms, she says, that families also need to be supported with an improved cash program to enable them to meet their basic needs and not resort to sending their children out to work.

Similar challenges also apply to available health care services for Syrians in Egypt. According to the ministry of health, there are significant numbers of Syrians who use public primary health services. The Regional Refugee & Resilience Plan report issued by the UN for 2016-2017 states that in 2015, “46,721 primary health care (PHC) consultations were provided to women, girls, boys and men, including follow up visits for more than 5,000 suffering from chronic illnesses; 714 mental health consultations were addressed; and 26,548 secondary and/or tertiary care services were provided.”

However, the same report also suggests an acute need for early diagnostic and treatment services and underlines the weakness of emergency services, as well as “the increased burden and risk of diseases associated with overcrowding, poor sanitation and hygiene and inequitable distribution of health care facilities.”

Grassroots efforts

With resources failing to meet ambitious refugee policies put by the government, a number of NGOs, along with UN agencies, have stepped in in recent years to fill out the gap. The programs address the deficiencies in the education system, financial issues facing Syrians in Egypt, emotional and psychological needs and physical well-being of Syrian mothers and children, as well as an essential focus on their social integration in the Egyptian community.

Plan International: a comprehensive relief for Syrian families

The international organization has been active in Egypt since the early 80s and has been adopting a series of programs targeting Syrian refugee children since 2014.
“We focus on promoting the protection and integration of Syrian refugees through our work with the children and their families, focusing on education as the main component,” Mona Hussein, advocacy communications coordinator, tells Egypt Today.

Plan’ first intervention with Syrian children was a pilot project in Alexandria in 2014. The project provided cash grants for their school fees and supplies, remedial classes to compensate for the difference in curriculums and dialects, psychosocial support for the mothers through parental education programs, and organized open days to promote integration between Syrian and Egyptian children. Plan has since launched several projects, which, although focus on children and their education as the main hub, “target the whole family as one unit,” Hussein says. The projects start with early childhood, and move on to the education period, youth economic empowerment and human development programs.

A recent project, Education in Harmony, has added new components to Plan’s mission, such as working on the infrastructure of public and community schools, providing essential utilities and equipment for the students, as well as training the teachers in dealing with Syrian kids. The project is done in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Education and targets almost 59,000 Syrian refugee children in Egypt.

“All of our work in is cooperation with the ministry of education and under its supervision. The classes we offer go in parallel with the schools and their main aim is to help Syrian children cope and be at the same level of their Egyptian colleagues,” Hussein says.

Some of Plan’s key partners include the Canadian government, the ministries of youth and sports, justice and social solidarity as well the Youth and Children Council and the National Council for Women. In addition to their work with the children, Plan has also been offering economic empowerment sessions and useful tools for the mothers to be able to generate income. “One of the biggest challenges facing Syrian refugees—which make their kids vulnerable to escape education or to early marriage—is that they don’t have enough money to support their children,” Hussein explains. “So the
option is to take their kids out of school.”

For information, contact Jacinthe Ibrahim, Plan International Egypt’s program area manager for Greater Cairo and the Delta, at jacinthe.ibrahim@planinternational.org or visit plan-international.org/Egypt

Beyout Amena: a successful intervention for Syrian children

We spent a day at Safe Homes (Beyout Amena); a project launched by both, Plan and Syria el Ghad in Sixth of October city, making up a model of successful intervention by Syrians, for Syrians, with the support of independent donors.

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 2.04.43 PM The project targets kids aged 2 to 6, to “prepare them for school, both academically and psychologically,” says project administrator, Sanaa Hassan. The total target is 800 children in three centres.

“Syrian parents were faced with a problem of costly nurseries and a wide difference in the level and capacities of classes, compared to Syria,” Project coordinator Samah Kamal says. “Through the project, the mum can leave her kid in a place where she is not worried; and she does not have to carry a financial burden.”

From 10 am to 11 am, it is time for sports and physical workouts at Beyout Amena. From 11 am to noon, children stay in their classrooms with their facilitator and engage in educational activities. The following hour is for games, intellectual activities and videos.

The project’s administrator and seven facilitators working with the children are all Syrians who dedicate their efforts to helping their youngsters overcome the trauma and the struggle they have gone through at a very early age. “I am responsible for organizing educational and entertainment activities for the children,” says Inas, one of the facilitators in the program who came to Egypt five years ago. “We teach them letters and numbers in Arabic and English in a creative way, using clay and sand…Entertainment activities include sports and handcrafts.”

Inas is also a student at the faculty of commerce at Cairo University and is looking forward to graduating in a few months. “I had to repeat a school year when I first arrived, and the dissimilarity between the two countries was problematic; but afterwards, it has been going very well,” she says.

The project also works on alleviating the stress and traumatic experiences the children experienced at an early age. “We have endured the problems ourselves: We understand their struggle,” Roaa says. “Our children grew up in tough situation that destroyed them.” Beyout Amena, like most projects by Plan International, hosts both Egyptian and Syrian kids together to facilitate their integration in the society. The project also incorporates a weekly awareness session for the parents, built upon Plan’s Parents Education program, which covers 30 topics on raising kids, kids’ health and psychological well being, as well as teaching them basic ethics and useful skills.

Syria el Ghad: grassroots support by Syrians for Syrians

Founded in 2013, Syria el Ghad first focused on rescue services to deal with the aftermath of the war. Its mission then shifted to human building, focusing on children, women and all Syrian individuals. The organization is currently a key partner in six projects, targeting kids in all levels of education. Their relief programs help provide books and school supplies for the children, offer remedial teachings for students and technical sessions for young adults, and seek to improve the psychological status of the kids through outings and activities. Other projects also focus on health services and women empowerment.

“The main focus of the organization has been the generation at risk of getting lost,” says Hisham Shehab, executive director of the organization, adding that children have been the most influenced by the Syrian crisis. “We focus on the child so that, since his very early raising, he is a normal person, with good education and a safe environment.”
The organization also offers health services through two clinics at Obour City, Qaliubya Governorate and Sixth of October city.

“We receive 500 patients per day; they are offered a medical examination, their needed x-rays, and the medication they shall use; all for a total of LE 35, which is almost for free,” Shehab says.

For more information visit their website www.Syria-AlGad.org or follow them on Facebook @SyriaAlgadRF

Enty el Aham: essential health awareness for mothers and kids

Enty el Aham (You’re More Important) is one of Misr Foundation for Health and Sustainable Development’s latest projects, dedicated to providing health services and awareness sessions for Syrian mothers and kids.

The NGO focused on health awareness for women and children in Egypt and has launched this initiative to provide day-long programs that incorporate basic medical screening and awareness sessions on health and nutrition, psychological help, gender-based violence, family planning and reproductive health. They also distribute free medical samples. “We are simulating the same concept we have adopted for Egyptian women and children,” Dr. Amr Hassan, the founder of the initiative and a lecturer and consultant of gynecology and obstetrics at Cairo University says, adding that the program is only slightly modified to fit with the needs and problems of the Syrian community.

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Photo courtesy of Enty el-Aham

The first project organized by Enty el Aham gathered 1,000 Syrian women and their children, Hassan recalls, adding that the women were offered the medical screening for blood sugar level, blood pressure and virus C, while the kids were examined for anemia, and measured to ensure normal and healthy growth, in addition to health and psychological awareness sessions. “What was the most noticeable is the problem of malnutrition of kids, which has a lot to do with the living conditions and poverty here in Egypt,” he says.

The project has since expanded, building partnerships with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), CARE, a major international humanitarian agency delivering emergency relief and long- term international development projects, the Arab Women Organization and Syrian NGOs working in Egypt, like Fard and Watan.

During the program, the children also receive educational coloring books on the dangers of smoking, and other simple, yet critical problems, Hassan says. They are also planning on producing new books to specifically address the issue of Syrians in Egypt, such as a coloring story about Syrian and Egyptian friends to promote their integration in society.

Follow them on Facebook @Enty.Elahm

Int’l organizations work hand in hand with the government

The UNICEF and the UNHCR have also been very active stakeholders in the crisis of Syrian war children. Committed to providing refugee host governments and communities with sustainable support, UNICEF co-leads the “No Lost Generation” initiative, an ambitious commitment to action by humanitarians, donors and political actors or policy makers to support children and youth affected by the Syria crisis.

In Egypt, UNICEF is collaborating with the Ministry of Health and Population, the Ministry of Education, the National Coordinating Committee on Preventing and Combating Illegal Migration and the National Council for Motherhood and Childhood to ensure practical and immediate response are in place for Syrian children in Egypt.
“UNICEF has reached over 1,900 Syrian refugee children (3-5 year) through a network of 80 community kindergartens (KG) across seven governorates; Alexandria, Damietta, Daqhaleya, Giza, Greater Cairo, Qalubiya and Sharkia,” UNICEF Representative in Egypt Bruno Maes tells Egypt Today. He adds that they have also supported 2,923 Syrian refugee children, including those with disabilities, to access primary education across 16 public schools in Damietta and Alexandria.

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 2.07.46 PM
Children receive Taekwondo training in Omar Ibn Al Khattab CDA, Faisal, Alexandria. February 2017 - Photo courtesy of Unicef


With the generous contributions of €1 million from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) of the European Commission, UNICEF has been able to boost access to basic education, offer psychological support and community- based recreational activities for refugees in different governorates. They were also able to provide specialized child protection services in Family Clubs, which offer life skills for adolescents and recreational activities for children, and local Egyptian Community development associations. “These places are safe havens for children. They can play and learn through playful activities; and a counselor is available to help them overcome their trauma and to provide professional guidance to their parents,” Maes says.

The UNICEF has also partnered with the Ministry of Health and Population to give Syrian mothers and children access to primary healthcare units located in 16 governorates across Egypt. “These units have delivered vaccinations, maternal and child care services and other medical services,” Maes says. “Child protection services are also provided in health care units throughout the activation of the Family Club initiative.”

“As a strategic partner to the Government of Egypt, UNICEF will continue to support the efforts of the government to ensure that Syrian children continue to access needed services and opportunities that ensure their wellbeing,” Maes says, affirming that “UNICEF’s main approach to the refugee crisis is to support the ongoing efforts of the Government and the ongoing efforts of community based initiatives.”

The UNHCR has also been working very closely with the Ministry of Education, to enhance the capacity of schools hosting Syrian refugee children through construction of additional classrooms, refurbishment of schools and improving the general physical environment. Focusing on the quality of education, the UNHCR continues to deliver teacher training and social workers training programs, as well as printing school books for early grades and establishing computer and science labs in the most impacted areas across Egypt.

Underlining that “countries like Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq have been bearing the responsibility of providing safety for Syrian refugees fleeing war and armed conflict remarkably,” UNHCR’s Khallaf points out that the international community must continue to support them through increased funding and solidarity, to compensate for the impact on their own economies, societies, and demographic challenges.

Indeed, it was this shared responsibility from agents of change, NGOs and independent initiatives that have contributed in making refugees lives a little easier and smoothen the transition to a country that has its own set of economic, educational and health problems.

“If the world continues to turn its back on Syria, it is the children who’ll continue to suffer the most,” said Wynn Flaten, director of World Vision’s Syria Crisis Regional Response, in 2014; a year that has been named as one of the worst years in history for children.

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