Page 1

TO SYRIA WINTER 2016

with love

The Dire Need for Protection in Syria PAGE 10

Preventing Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Syria PAGE 14

Dispelling Fears, Resettling Refugees PAGE 20

And Much More...

You Can Help Save

ALEPPO PAGE 6


Five years of bringing help and

H


OPE

to the Syrian people.


05 Letter from the President Our Fifth Anniversary

06 #SaveAleppo 10 The Dire Need for Protection in Syria 12 The Giving Season 13 Teddy Bears for Syrian Children 14 Preventing Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Syria 16 A Community Approach

Young Child Nutrition in South Syria

18 Syria's Higher Education Problem 20 Dispelling Fears, Resettling Refugees

SyriaReliefandDevelopment.org info@syriareliefanddevelopment.org SyriaReliefandDevelopment |

SyriaRandD

PO Box 25446, Overland Park, KS 66225 | (913) 438-9990 Tax ID 45-3737015

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Muneeza Tahir DESIGN: Rebekah Van Winkle CONTRIBUTORS: Mais Balkhi, Dena Elian, Salman Husain, Mariam Klait, Amany Qaddour, Dr. Jihad Qaddour, Muneeza Tahir, Amena Waseem

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Dear Friends, On November 3rd, we celebrated our fifth anniversary as a nonprofit humanitarian organization serving the Syrian people. We chose to celebrate the day by thanking you and our generous donors and supporters who have helped us provide care to so many Syrians in need. We are eternally thankful to you for your support, whether monetary or by sharing our work with other people, and hope you’ll continue to support our efforts. Our hope is that the conflict can come to an end and our focus can shift entirely to helping the country rebuild its infrastructure and its people rebuild their lives and recreate hopes and dreams of a brighter future. That’s when the real work begins. But for now, together we are working to meet the growing and changing needs of a large population living in conflict. Our annual issue of To Syria, With Love has always focused on discussing what matters to the Syrian population. As a diaspora organization, we seek to let our voice echo that of Syrian civilians. Our staff in Syria and regional offices in Turkey and Jordan conduct needs-assessments and our programs are subsequently based on what Syrian families and communities have indicated as their greatest areas of need and concern. That’s why we’ve always considered ourselves an organization for the people and by the people. And we hope to see and hear more of the diaspora voice being represented in discussions about Syria’s humanitarian crisis and the needs of the Syrian people. Our staff in the US, particularly our Advocacy and Outreach team, works tirelessly to ensure the collective voice of the Syrian people is heard.

As winter settles upon us and the winter holidays approach, I hope you will consider supporting our campaign to provide winter care for Syrian families. With millions of Syrians displaced from their homes, our winter care and protection services provide valuable necessities to help children and families survive the cold weather. Use the donation envelope enclosed in the center of this newsletter to make a tax-deductible donation. And don’t forget to make your donations by the end of the day on December 31st to have your donation considered with your charitable contributions when you file your 2016 taxes next year. From the entire Syria Relief and Development family, thank you again for helping make the last 5 years a hopeful experience for us and the beneficiaries you’ve helped. Please continue to keep the people of Syria in your thoughts and prayers. Together, let us hope that the conflict in Syria comes to an end quickly and the healing and rebuilding process can truly begin for millions of Syrians. Sincerely,

Dr. Jihad Qaddour President, Syria Relief & Development Syria Relief and Development | 5


© Karam Almasri


BY AMENA WASEEM, Grants Associate

The war in Syria has waged on for nearly six years. Each year has taken a toll on one of Syria’s largest cities, Aleppo. Aleppo has been the sight of chemical attacks, barrel bombs and endless violence. It continues to be a battleground, while its population dwindles.

Syria Relief and Development | 7


s of early November, nearly 250,000 people were trapped in the eastern part of the city and living under siege. In order to keep supporting the population, schools and medical facilities have moved underground. Monuments and homes lay in ruins. Despite numerous residents fleeing the city during a temporary ceasefire, circumstances remain dire and media coverage has been scarce; the infrequent instances of news from Syria has become one of the biggest struggles of those who continue to advocate for civilians. The population of Aleppo has been caught amid the fighting between multiple parties in the conflict, each trying to take control of the city. Russian forces, attempting to claim the city for the current Syrian regime, have been using cluster bombs—which can reach a wide area and cause extensive damage—and indiscriminately attacked hospitals and civilian infrastructure. The use of such war tactics and weaponry is a violation of international law, but it continues.

Civilians in Aleppo have no warnings of attacks except for hearing the sounds of helicopters or military planes. Sighting their path has become the only way to know what neighborhood(s) will be attacked. Local volunteers, like the White Helmets, recover the injured and the dead. When there is occasional international news coverage, children are shown being pulled from the rubble of decimated buildings. Families are forced to leave their destroyed homes, becoming displaced within the city and seeking shelter in makeshift homes which become dangerous as the harsh winter begins. The siege on Aleppo has kept humanitarian aid and relief away from those who need it most in Aleppo. Humanitarian corridors have been mostly closed since September. Some districts are facing rationing efforts to supply bread and other food after running out of flour. Obtaining food items such as eggs, flour and meat is difficult and often unaffordable as food costs have raised exponentially in local markets.

As updates about the refugee crisis seep in and out of the news cycle, it is important to remember where and why the refugees fled and recognize that there is a deeper root cause for this uprooting of a whole society. In doing so, we recognize the capability we have to make a difference in advocating for the root cause.

THINGS TO ADVOCATE FOR: • The safety of public service facilities like hospitals that allow vulnerable persons to seek needed services.

• Increased humanitarian access to alleviate desperate conditions due to the lack of food, water and medical services.

• Syrian-led solutions: those living through the crisis best know what is needed. It’s vital to partner with civil society and provide real solutions to local challenges.

•S  upport for Syria’s neighbors and Syrian refugees’ host countries: countries that have had an influx of Syrian refugees require greater international assistance and support.

8 | To Syria, With Love

•R  ecognition of the education gap: in the last 5 ½ years, millions of Syrian children and young adults have lost much-needed educational opportunities, preventing skill and career development for the country’s future growth.


ADVOCACY

Bombings have damaged the The campaign consists of proacFOR THE VOICELESS tively reaching out to local media water distribution system in the city and damaged waIS THE STRONGEST to provide expert testimony and ter pumps, rendering proper interviews on the current challengTOOL WE POSSESS. water and sanitation a major es for civilians in Aleppo, giving deissue in the city. Since the demand to open aid cor- tailed accounts of the destruction of hospitals and ridors has gone unheard, there is no estimation of civilian infrastructure, and calling for an end to the how starvation is affecting civilians or when medical war crimes that are occurring day-in and day-out. supplies will arrive, leaving the few remaining med- This campaign is a reminder that humanitarian acical professionals to continue treating patients with tors are unable to assist by any means: it’s a grassonly what is on hand. These dire conditions continue roots effort to bring to light the horrors of daily life to worsen the longer the city is blocked off from aid. for the people of Aleppo. The access technology has given us to the war in Syria has been unlike any other. Syrian diaspora organizations have continued their work despite the great danger and have been fortunate to remain connected with staff inside Syria to be provided with the latest updates on the humanitarian crisis. The informed nature of this war has commanded an ethical responsibility to keep up efforts of advocacy and change for civilians and those trapped in harm’s way.

The campaign’s efforts are a reminder on how a distant war wages on and grows stronger with every passing year. The refugee crisis, the birth and life of ISIS, the political parties involved—none of these things are as important as the innocent lives that have been lost or destroyed as a result of systemic violence over the past six years and how many more may be lost or destroyed if the violence continues.

Our Response

Though it’s easy to forget, advocacy for the voiceless is the strongest tool we possess. It’s our humanitarian duty to stay informed and democratic right to demand positive change and reform. The crisis in Syria and Aleppo has given us all an opportunity to do something positive to impact the lives of people whose voices have been muted.

In response to the conditions worsening in Aleppo, Syria Relief and Development (SRD) is working with other Syrian diaspora organizations through the American Relief Coalition for Syria (ARCS) on a campaign to advocate for the people of Aleppo and bring international awareness to their struggles.

HOW TO ADVOCATE: • Stay informed: diaspora organizations make a huge effort to keep the public informed. This is done because media outlets have covered the war sporadically and have sometimes missed large developments.

• Call/email/write-to your members of Congress: voice your concerns to your senators and representatives. Give them compelling reason for why the Syrian crisis

should be taken as a congressional priority. Get your family and friends to do the same—congressional staff who read correspondence keep track of how many people are interested or have shown concern about an issue.

• Mobilize your local community: get your church, synagogue or mosque, city officials, community leaders and others to hold fundrais-

ers, prayer sessions, walk-a-thons, media events, etc. to help raise awareness for the Syrian crisis. Contact a local Syrian diaspora organization that can help with questions and answers, fundraising and distribution efforts or anything else you may need. The more people you can get involved in raising awareness, the more likely your message will grow and lead to positive change.

Syria Relief and Development | 9


THE DIRE NEED FOR

PROTECTION IN SYRIA B

BY DENA ELIAN, Program Officer

y now, the majority of Syrians have devastatingly become victims of human rights violations and abuses over the course of a nearly 6 year-long conflict. Indiscriminate violence, displacement, poverty, exploitation, isolation, and deprivation of basic human needs has caused mass civilian casualties and instilled terror and trauma across the population. The need for humanitarian

10 | To Syria, With Love


protection in Syria has reached unprecedented levels and will only continue to grow with the conflict. The United Nation’s Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) has set the guideline of protecting civilians in armed conflict: fully respecting the rights of all individuals in accordance with international law—international humanitarian, human rights, and refugee law—regardless of age, gender, social status, ethnicity, nationality, religion or other classification. While the international community deliberates over a solution to the long drawn-out conflict, the suffering of the Syrian people continues and intensifies daily. The implementation of humanitarian protection cannot be put on hold until agreed upon through political negotiation.

Self-Protection by Fleeing Violence A report published by the Stimson Center on protection in communities cites displacement as one of the most frequently used methods of self-protection among Syrians. Though fleeing one’s home is often a matter of life or death, displacement is in no way a guarantee that the next destination will be any less volatile. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Syria are often viewed as defenseless and are subject to human rights violations.

How We’re Providing Protection to Address a Pressing Need Over the past year, SRD has launched protection programs and implemented protection components into existing programs in order to better assist these populations. One program launched by SRD works to establish deep and sustainable community-oriented protection services for women, children and families who have been displaced. Through this program, SRD is able to create a long-lasting impact by developing protection committees that are made up of teachers, community leaders, local council members, media activists and parents. These committees identify and provide support to the most vulnerable individuals within their respective communities. Their roles include ensuring that women and children are protected from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. They have been particularly instrumental in identifying out-of-school children, meeting with their parents, and educating the families on the importance of sending their children to school. Severe cases that have been identified by a committee member and require advanced care, such as SGBV cases and those who have suffered severe psychological trauma, are referred to SRD’s Community Center, located in southern Idleb. There, they are able to receive advanced care from social workers or medical professionals. Women in need of further assistance who have been referred to the community center are given the opportunity to participate in an empowerment training that provides them with skills and knowledge that they are able to use as a tool in their communities such as midwifery training, psychosocial awareness, and SGBV prevention.

"While the international community deliberates over a solution to the long drawn-out conflict, the suffering of the Syrian people continues and intensifies daily."

IDPs who have escaped and survived besiegement, torture, air raids, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) and massacre are among the vulnerable populations in greatest need of immediate humanitarian protection. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) estimates that there are currently 6.1 million IDPs inside Syria. Once individuals or families have fled and are in search of safety, the risks they face as IDPs, who are often displaced multiple times, include armed violence; separation from family, including children; increased risks of SGBV; and displacement into hostile environments, where they suffer from marginalization, harassment and fear.

SRD’s goal is not only to provide assistance to vulnerable populations for the duration of a program, but to equip members of the communities we serve with the tools that are required to achieve long lasting self-empowerment. The more we incorporate members of the community into the design of a program, the greater our impact. Syria Relief and Development | 11


the

giving season

I

n 2014, we started a tradition at SRD called The Giving Season. It’s a time when the weather grows colder and winter holidays provide warmth and comfort to those of us who have much to be thankful for. It’s also a time when, amid seasonal and holiday shopping when we are buying things for our

loved ones, that we take some time to give to those in dire need. It’s the perfect time to show gratitude and thankfulness—to reflect back on all the year has given us and how we can share joy with those who need it.

Winter Care This year, SRD will distribute winter care items to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Zaizoun Camp in Western Daraa and to other Syrians living in dire conditions. SRD will distribute much-needed items such as blankets and fuel for heaters (diesel and olive pits). SRD has also been helping to rehabilitate damaged shelters to better protect Syrian IDPs and others from the season’s harsh elements.

Final Chance to Give During 2016 & Receive a Tax Break With the end of the year right around the corner, December signals the last chance to make a 2016 tax-deductible* donation before the year is over. Because we are a 501(c)(3), all donations made to support any of our programs are tax-deductible*. You can help provide winter care for IDPs or help our health care facilities provide crisis-necessary medical care or support our orphan families fund that targets families that have lost their primary breadwinners and are in need of financial support. *For information, rules and eligibility for tax deductions and charitable contributions, contact your tax preparer, accountant or the IRS.

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for Syrian Children

Y D D E T ARS BE

BY MUNEEZA TAHIR, Senior Marketing Manager

F

or the past 2 years, SRD has partnered with The Teddy Trust to bring teddy bears to vulnerable Syrian children. The Teddy Trust is a U.K.based nonprofit organization whose founder, Ellie Targett, reached out to SRD in 2015 after spending 2 years collecting teddy bears for abused children in South Africa where the teddies were distributed to children in hospitals, hospices, homes and rape crisis centers.

From that one email we received from Ellie, an initiative was launched that brought hope and joy to tens-of-thousands of Syrian children. Over the past 2 years, The Teddy Trust has collected and sent 23,500 teddy bears to Syrian children, also raising the money to cover shipment and customs fees. Last year, the organization was able to collect and ship the teddy bears to reach Syrian children in time for the Eid holiday.

At the time Ellie contacted SRD, we were heavily involved in providing psychosocial support to Syrian children through our Pediatric Primary Health and Psychosocial Support Centers. What resonated strongly with us was her message that the children who received teddies in South Africa were traumatized and didn’t find it easy to communicate with adults but when they received the teddy bears, the doors to healing started to open.

Many of the teddy bears donated to The Teddy Trust have been given by children who know there are other children in Syria going through a difficult time and could use a cuddly teddy bear to give them hope and smiles. The Church of England and other faith-based organizations have also been involved in collecting the teddies, along with people and groups from all across the U.K. And when the shipment arrived in Turkey and was transported by our staff into Syria, the teddy bears were distributed to a lot of extremely happy children.

Ellie and the people at The Teddy Trust had been tuned into the crisis in Syria and could see the hardship Syrian children were undergoing. They were interested in replicating the South Africa teddy bear collection project with Syrian children who were going through unimaginable psychological pain amid war. And we were fortunate that The Teddy Trust chose SRD to be the organization to distribute the teddy bears.

SRD hopes to continue a partnership with The Teddy Trust well into the future to continue providing hope and joy to Syrian children. We are incredibly thankful and humbled by the work of this amazing organization. Visit the organization’s website at teddytrust.org.uk and follow its work on Facebook: facebook.com/theteddytrust. Syria Relief and Development | 13


Preventing Sexual and Gender-Based Violence IN S Y R IA

BY SALMAN HUSAIN

S

yria’s brutal war has crippled the country in many ways, leaving 13.5 million Syrians in dire need of aid and dismantling the country’s infrastructure, security and stability over the past several years. In addition to unsafe conditions, economic hardships and psychological traumas inflicted on the Syrian people, an even more difficult battle has been fought by numerous civilians, especially women and girls: Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV). Every day these women and girls face the dangers of SGBV and often without any mechanism for treatment or any outlet for expressing grief. The issue of SGBV in the Syrian conflict became public early-on as reports of rape and sexual violence against women and children started to come out. The reports pointed to a disturbing pattern of armed actors using rape against women and children as a war tactic to intimidate and humiliate civilian populations. SGBV also generated international attention as the Syrian refugee crisis escalated: sexual violence arose in the absence of segregated bathrooms and a collapse of accountability and the presence of overcrowded shelters forced several different family members to live and sleep in close proximity to one another. Women and children who fled Syria for safety in neigh-

14 | To Syria, With Love

boring countries reported being victimized by local men who viewed them as impoverished and fair-game for inappropriate stares and comments. And many women who sought work to help feed and care for their families reported being victims of SGBV. Economic depravity also led many families to resort to the tragic choice of facilitating the early marriages of daughters in exchange for money. Too often, this is the result of choosing between having food on the table or suffering immense hunger and poverty. Women and children are especially vulnerable and those who become victims of SGBV find it virtually impossible to seek medical and psychological treatment primarily from societal stigma. Few disclose to anyone that they were victims of SGBV. But through education and awareness-raising, this cultural dynamic can shift, removing some of the stigma associated with reporting SGBV. In light of these challenges, SRD recognized the need for a resilience-building approach to address SGBV to the greatest extent possible. In July 2016, we launched an integrated SGBV program as a component of our existing Family Planning program in seven Primary and Reproductive Health Care Centers with seven corresponding Mobile Outreach Teams that visit 41 different outreach


© UNHCR/Béla Szandelszky The refugee woman pictured is not a victim of genderbased violence, but she and her family fled their home in Daara, Syria in fear of random killings and rape.

sites throughout Aleppo and Idleb, Syria. We recruited a team of social workers and delivered basic training on SGBV and psychosocial support, as well as how to identify vulnerabilities among communities and individuals. SRD has served Syrian women with psychosocial support, SGBV awareness and has established the framework for the clinical management of rape (CMR) as the program expands. SRD has equipped facilities with CMR kits to help detect and treat cases of rape and train staff on the management of rape cases.

fusing tension in order to minimize the capacity for harm from domestic issues, focusing often on communication skills between the wife and husband. SRD also facilitates the training of women with regards to life skills and vocational skills in order to get women into spaces that they can socialize and work beyond the home and to promote self-sufficiency. SRD’s community center in Idleb serves as a safe space for women to receive many skills training courses for free, including sewing, language development, communication, midwifery and more.

SRD has trained social workers to perform consultations for vulnerable women seeking assistance. The most common cases received so far relate to domestic abuse. The consultations are designed to provide advice regarding coping mechanisms, potential courses of action and delivery of psychosocial relief, but the social workers never dictate any solutions to beneficiaries. Often times, social workers help beneficiaries suffering from domestic abuse consider safety plans, which include a method of escaping an abusive relationship and securing alternative shelter and services. Social workers frequently counsel women on interpersonal relationship management and methods for dif-

At SRD we’re continuing to expand our SGBV prevention efforts and train more staff, not only in the basics of awareness and treatment but also in more advanced health and psychosocial service delivery pertaining to SGBV. Keeping a focus on SGBV reaffirms our commitment to upholding the health and well-being of the most vulnerable civilian populations and cultivating safe spaces for those in need to seek comfort and help. By advancing a holistic approach that combines psychosocial support, the provision of safe spaces, skills training, referrals and hopefully a greater emphasis on health care for CMR, we hope to tackle the immense challenge of SGBV in Syria. Syria Relief and Development | 15


Young Child Nutrition in South Syria BY MARIAM KLAIT, Jordan Country Director

T

he collapse of the health care system in Syria has depleted the availability of medical services and rendered the medical care that remains in a state of great vulnerability. The various logistical and security challenges presented by armed conflict, including high transportation costs and threats to beneficiaries in South Syria, compel Syrians to seek out health care in facilities for the most urgent matters, rather than for preventative health care. This has caused fundamental health practices to fall by the wayside. Given the barriers to access, often the best and only way to reach those in need of nutrition and health messages in Southern Syria is through household visits at the community level. Through our work in South Syria, SRD found that pregnant and lactating mothers and mothers with infants are most in need of community level intervention because they are responsible for the health of their children and can impact positive outcomes by upholding their own health. Several simple practices exist that can increase an infant’s chances of survival in Syria where scarcity of food, resources and health care render individuals especially vulnerable. Internationally-recognized practices as simple as exclusive breastfeeding of infants for 6 months make a great difference in emergency settings.

16 | To Syria, With Love

The most reliable medical research and global consensus on ideal breastfeeding practices suggest that in emergency settings like in Syria, breastfeeding remains the optimal way to ensure proper infant and child nutrition. Breastfeeding is free, protects against diarrhea in infants, contributes to the development of healthy children, promotes health benefits for the mother, and overall reduces child mortality and morbidity. Despite the many advantages to breastfeeding infants, several misconceptions emerge during emergency settings that often diminish widespread practice, such


as the notion that mothers who are malnourished cannot breastfeed, stress reduces the level of milk a mother produces, babies with diarrheal disease need water or tea and women cannot resume lactation once breastfeeding has stopped. This increases the urgency of proper education and promotion of breastfeeding practices at the household and community levels. To help increase the knowledge of mothers and pregnant/lactating women, SRD launched a community health nutrition program in July to raise awareness on Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) in Emergencies. Trained community health workers go door-to-door to have an awareness session with mothers, young girls and with other caregivers in the household to deliver messages on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, complementary breastfeeding and how to improve maternal and child nutrition. At these home visits, SRD staff give each mother a breastfeeding kit to encourage mothers to breastfeed, which includes bibs, a breast pump and hand sanitizers. Beneficiaries are also given a range of informational material on breastfeeding, infant and child nutrition and maternal nutrition. As the program expands, SRD will also distribute essential micronutrients for pregnant and lactating mothers and for children between ages 6 months and 5 years to ensure that they are receiving all necessary nutrients to fill critical gaps that emerge in the current environment that has contributed to an unvaried diet with limited meat and produce. A program like this can only be accomplished with a strong team of community workers inside Syria. Because of the difficulty of bringing people from Syria into Jordan for training, SRD created a dual model training utilizing Skype and a trainer inside Syria to train 15 community health workers. Over three days, this team covered a curriculum designed by our team in Jordan that focused on an introduction to

IYCF, how to initiate breastfeeding and maintain the practice for different age groups, early marriage and training on community mobilization methods. The training also covered how to adhere to humanitarian principles in our work and how to engage beneficiaries through a sensitive and culturally-contextual approach. Once trained, the community health workers were equipped with educational tools like story books, pamphlets and brochures and were sent out to meet with mothers and soon-to-be mothers in the community. Not only are we reaching people at the community level, but these community health workers also set out to medical facilities in the community to train nurses, midwives and doctors on how to deliver these messages and why it’s important to do so. We also left posters and informational materials in various medical facilities for patients to access while waiting to receive services. This project has advanced SRD’s goal of creating a network of people able to provide lifesaving messages to those that need it the most. The household level visits have been a success. We are only a few weeks into the program but have already seen a positive change in habits. A couple of mothers have said that they used to give their 4 month-old infants water because they did not know that breast milk provided all the hydration and water an infant needs. In our follow-up conversations with them, they said that because of their talk with the community health workers, they have stopped giving their infants under age 6 months anything other than milk. Community Level intervention not only helps fill a gap in the provision of medical care inside Syria but it is always creating a sense of ownership of programs as it is the community workers themselves that are the agents of change, creating a sense of civic engagement and empowering a group of young Syrians to get involved and to make a positive difference in their community. As the program expands, SRD hopes to bring breastfeeding promotion as well as fundamental public health practices to more families, households and communities throughout Syria.

Several simple practices exist that can increase an infant’s chances of survival in Syria.

Syria Relief and Development | 17


Syria’s

HIGHER EDUCATION PROBLEM BY MAIS BALKHI, Advocacy and Outreach Manager © UNHCR/Qusai Alazroni

H

igher education is being overlooked inside Syria. International media and development organizations understandably focus on the immediacy of human suffering. But in doing so, they lose sight of one serious long-term legacy of the violence: a decimated university system. In the past four years, interest has grown in primary education for young Syrians, resulting in initiatives like #NoLostGeneration, launched in 2013 with the aim of protecting the futures of Syrian children, and Education Cannot Wait: an education crisis fund, launched at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May 2016. At the refugee summit in New York in September 2016, world leaders committed to improving access to education for 1 million refugee children globally. The important work of educating Syria’s children must continue. But if the international community ignores higher education for young Syrians, a key age group is at risk of joining armed groups, falling into crime or risking everything by crossing the Mediterranean in hope of a better chance in life. Modest efforts have been made to support post-secondary education in the region, for example, the Institute of International Education (IIE) Syria Consortium for Higher Education in Crisis, announced

18 | To Syria, With Love

in September 2012, which provides scholarships for refugees. In May 2015, the European Union committed 12 million euros to pay for scholarships and short-term higher education courses for Syrians in the Middle East. But these important steps miss a key piece when it comes to education for Syrians, and that is higher education for young adults inside the country. If countries in the Middle East fail to provide young people with the knowledge and skills to encourage development, the region will face greater challenges including increasing unemployment, violence, criminality and extremism. Many universities in Syria still function, particularly those in government-controlled areas. However, the ongoing violence, restrictions on movement either caused by checkpoints or lack of safety, the frozen job-market and forced displacement have caused a high percentage of university students to drop out. Although education at public universities was previously affordable—where enrollment fees varied between $10-20 depending on the faculty—the collapse of the Syrian currency against the dollar has caused a rapid increase in living costs.


Combined with rising printing costs, book prices and transportation, many students can no longer afford to study. On the other hand, large numbers of professors and academic staff have fled the country, leaving fresh graduates—often with no teaching or practical experience—to fill key positions. In the face of an enormous brain drain, a generation of students has been given a poor quality of higher education.

A study on enrollment rates after 2013—there is no reliable data regarding post-secondary education beyond that year—and a survey on the top-priority professions and skills needed on the ground would be of great value. It is a complicated task to cover all of Syria as needs vary between government and non-government controlled areas. However, this could be very useful when the conflict ends.

The current educational system at public universities stresses memorization of facts and theoretical learning, without space for creative thinking. Students are evaluated on mid-term and final exams and not based on their ongoing learning progress throughout the year. Curriculums are outdated and the use of technology in teaching is very limited.

Students need accredited degrees that provide both academic and practical aspects. They need education that provokes their critical faculties, encourages creativity and can be applied directly to cover the great demand for skilled labor in Syria.

SRD has been advocating for and highlighting the importance of providing young Syrians with higher education. We continue to "The important work of educating Syria’s children warn of the dire consequences of neglecting this issue.

must continue. But if the international community ignores higher education for young Syrians, a key

age group is at risk of joining armed groups, falling into crime or risking everything by crossing the Mediterranean in hope of a better chance in life.” Young graduates often face the shocking reality of a sparse job market. Those lucky enough to find a job often struggle to apply what they have learned as universities have failed to provide them with apprenticeships. This state of affairs worsens as universities use the same teaching methods, producing graduates with education but experience that is irrelevant to the current or future needs of the country when the conflict wanes. The number of university-age students who have not completed their education as a result of the conflict continues to rise.

Moving Forward To understand how to create a comprehensive higher educational system in Syria, accurate statistics are needed.

In 2015, the organization began reaching out to international universities, educational institutes, organizations and diaspora communities who share the same concern for Syrian youth inside the country. We began to work inside Syria assessing needs and identifying target groups for potential academic projects.

While most organizations and donors have focused on primary education as well as helping Syrian refugee students and academic staff seek scholarships, post-secondary education for students inside Syria has been off the radar. The claim that higher education is a low priority will remain a serious challenge for organizations like us and should be challenged if we are to foster development in Syria. If those young people lose the hope of a better future, we have lost them in the present. We must create a decent future for them, which starts with sharing their concerns and planning for longterm, sustainable programs. As challenging as this might sound, it is achievable when we as humanitarian organizations also think beyond the conflict. Syria Relief and Development | 19


N

early 5 million Syrians, or approximately the population of the state of Alabama, have fled Syria to seek safety in neighboring countries and over 6 million Syrians who have fled their homes remain in Syria as internally displaced persons (IDPs). During periods of intense conflict, the number of Syrians fleeing the country increases, adding to an already abundant refugee crisis. According to the UN, for every minute that passes, 24 Syrians flee their homes and become either IDPs or refugees. And as long as the conflict in Syria continues, these numbers will only continue to increase. Syria’s neighbors—primarily Jordan, Turkey, Iraq

Dispelling Fears, Resettling Refugees BY MUNEEZA TAHIR , Senior Marketing Manager

20 | To Syria, With Love


and Lebanon—are housing the majority of Syrians who have fled the country. Over the past 2 years, pressure has been put on European countries, Canada and the U.S. to accept asylum seekers and welcome refugees into their borders. And as governments have responded to the calls with acceptance quotas, public concern in these nations has grown over accepting refugees coming from Syria, given the perceived threat of an increased number of Muslim immigrants and the increased likelihood of inviting potential terrorists. Attempts at dispelling fear and anger over this issue—with detail on the vetting process or statistics on the likelihood of an immigrant terrorist attack over

domestic crime—have eased concerns for some but many are still not convinced that welcoming Syrian refugees into their country is a good thing. What many have forgotten is that at one point or another, the vast majority of us were immigrants to the countries we inhabit and few of us can claim to be indigenous persons of the land we currently call home. Syrian refugees are leaving behind everything they’ve ever known to flee life-threatening violence and provide the chance at a future for themselves and their children. They are seeking safety and shelter in the arms of any nation that will extend a hand in welcome and provide them with basic human dignity and a place to live in peace. Many of those future Syrian resettlers are currently living in makeshift shelters or camps, dealing with inaccess to proper food, healthcare, education and a host of other basic necessities, on top of dealing with sexual and gender-based violence and harassment. They are living in conditions that, while this Earth and our nations have space and provision to spare, we would never wish to live in ourselves. They are people like our children, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and those we cherish most. Our basic human decency and dignity demand from us that we share our lands and resources with those who seek refuge in it. If we would not remove ourselves from the nation where we were all once immigrants and return it to its indigenous people, how can we deny those who wish to live here the opportunity to do so? And reason on the basis of the fear of a potential hazard is just that, fear; of the possible potential of something unknown occurring, focusing on the mole while disregarding the mountain of domestic crime that daily poses a greater threat than the joy our society will receive from welcoming and embracing Syrian refugees. SRD strongly encourages the U.S. government and the international community to raise their quotas and accept even more Syrian refugees to help ease the burden on Syria’s neighbors and provide millions of Syrians with a chance at a better future. Syria Relief and Development | 21


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To Syria With Love, Winter 2016  

Syria Relief & Development Newsletter SyriaReliefandDevelopment.org

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