When conflict strikes, its children who tend to suffer the most. We at the IRC recognize this, and acknowledge that for a vast majority of youth, school is seen as that safe space to escape the surrounding conflict, and build skills needed to thrive and survive. Today, we wish to share with you the story of Mahmoud, a boy who risked his life to attend school.
For years, Mahmoud, a serious-minded 13-year-old student from the start, made the daily trip to his school in Homs, Syria without hesitation, despite bullets and bombs dropping around him. “I was scared to be killed, but it’s school…I had to go,” he says. “I had no desire to stay in the dark, even if there’s war around me.” It broke Mahmoud’s heart when one of those bombs destroyed his school four years ago. For him, the classroom was a refuge and a challenge.
“It’s the first step in becoming something great,” he says. Mahmoud was fortunate in that both his parents are teachers. They taught him for several months until yet another bomb hit their home. After fleeing from one city to the next, they finally left Syria for Lebanon. “My parents said in Lebanon I could go to school,” he recalls. “I just want to be safe and learn.”
Mahmoud is one of a half-million school-aged Syrian children living in Lebanon. The pressure to educate these youngsters has been immense, but 250,000 of them still have no opportunity to study. Cities and towns lack resources and physical space, even with the government mandating “second shifts” at public schools so Syrian children may attend classes. Mahmoud preferred to enroll in first shift courses, so that he could make friends with Lebanese children and learn how to speak the local dialect.
He had some luck when he was recommended to enroll in supportive classes run by the International Rescue Committee for Syrian children struggling to adjust in public school. The IRC program builds core competencies in math, Arabic and a second language (English as well as French), with structured tutoring and child-centered learning activities. To date, the IRC has reached more than 4,300 Syrian refugee children across the Bekka and Akkar.
The Syrian war has exposed children like Mahmoud to unspeakable atrocities and hardships, but many hold onto to their hopes and dreams. “I want to study biology and become a doctor,” says Mahmoud. “I don’t like to see sick people. I saw a lot of sick people in Syria. I want to do my part and make people feel better.” Now one of the top students in his public school, Mahmoud gives credit for his progress to the IRC class.
We at the IRC will continue to work to provide opportunities, and safe havens, to more youth like Mahmoud, and provide the foundation towards a conflict free future.