At the moment, an estimated 16,000 Syrian refugees live in informal tented settlements in Jordan. The UN believes that around 41% of the children in these camps have never been enrolled in formal schools in Syria or in their new host country, and that only 6% are attending formal schools. This problem is cited as one of the most urgent in relation to children's needs - instead of attending schools, up to 60% of children, especially boys, are sent to work.
Large aid agencies have done incredible work in and outside camps, but frequently name reaching these refugees as one of their main challenges. Educating young Syrian children means increasing their quality of life, giving hope, and preventing radicalisation. Why, then, would we focus on informal schools as opposed to increasing access to formal education?
Let's have a look at one informal tent camp in Mafraq that we have worked with for a while. In this camp in the desert, there are around 40 school-aged children. Of these, only two attend formal schools. When we asked why, their age was stated as the most important factor; only the oldest children are allowed to undertake the long journey to get to a Jordanian school. The adults in the camp do not feel it is safe to send their younger children.
For us, it is important to make sure young children will be prepared to enter formal schooling at an older age. To prevent major gaps in knowledge and skills, we support local initiatives in informal tented settlements, so that children can get the opportunities they deserve. As we expand our efforts in this field, we hope to eventually get the informal schools certified, so that the teachers can get salaries, and the children will not fall behind.
Refugee Utility Project has been invited to partner alongside Acting For Change Jordan, a local NGO led by Kotaiba, a Syrian refugee from Palmyra. We will support them in their mission to open the first school that is not in a tent on the Syrian side of the Rukban camp. The school's capacity will initially be around 130 children with 3 Syrian teachers. The building has already been purchased, and it is currently being fitted with a roof and proper floor. We believe, as does Acting For Change, that providing education in times of humanitarian crises is incredibly important to prevent children from becoming radicalised, as well as to provide them with a brighter future. We are incredibly proud to be part of this project and hope YOU will support us!
So what is Rukban refugee camp?
Between Jordan and Syria, along the northeastern border, lies a 'no-man's land' where around 75,000 Syrian refugees have been stranded since the Jordanian government closed its borders in June 2016. This is Rukban camp, also known as the berm, and it was supposed to be a temporary camp for refugees entering Jordan. After a car bombing in June 2016, the Jordanian border was closed, leading to a rapid expansion of the camp. In 2014 there were 368 shelters in the camp, but by the end of 2016 the number had increased to 8,295 (Amnesty International).
Since the border closed, the refugees in the camp have been suffering in harsh conditions - no running water, lack of access to medical care, electricity, and food. This led to an outbreak of hepatitis A, with Syria:direct reporting that 18 children died from hepatitis-induced jaundice between June and December 2016.
In addition to this, Al-Jazeera reports that the area has been bombed three times; the first time it was a car bombing in June, then another car bombing in October, and an IED (improvised explosive device) in December of last year. For several months, aid agencies were not allowed to send any aid, and UN staff are still not allowed to enter the area. More frequent aid is now allowed to be sent to the area.
If you want to support our educational program in Rukban, please consider donating today. We are incredibly grateful for everyone's support! Thank you.
If you want to see behind-the-scenes footage and pictures from our projects, you should follow Refugee Utility Project on Instagram! We regularly post updates from our work, information about the situation for Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan, as well as post more informal pictures from our office and staging areas when we prepare for operations in the field.
We'd love to connect with you!
Written by Emma Tveit