Yearning for learning

UNICEF supported education activities give refugee and migrant children a sense of normality

Most of the children at the Tabanovce refugee and migrant transit centre have escaped war inflicted areas, violence or persecution. Some have left behind their closest family members, others their closest friends. All of them have one thing in common. They have all had their education disrupted. Missing out on education can have far reaching effects, effectively compromising their future prospects. That’s why UNICEF and partners are doing all they can to give children a sense of normality, through structured learning activities.

One of the things that Samira (12) misses the most after fleeing Afghanistan and barely escaping drowning at sea is, in fact, going to school. She really wants to become a doctor and regularly participates in all UNICEF supported structured learning activities organized with the partner organizations SOS Children’s village and Open Gate — La Strada.

From language catch up classes to dance lessons, most of the refugee and migrant children in Tabanovce enjoy the activities that bring them back to learning. Books from the series 1,001 Arabian Nights, donated by the Big Bad Boo Animation Studios, are used to teach children civic values and human rights.

The routine, the friends, the support, provided through the classes gives children hope for their future. Mohammed, 11 years old from Syria clutches on to his new UNICEF school bag as he listens attentively to the lesson.

Through the civic education curricula, children learn about empathy, trust, equality, respect, responsibility, justice and acts of kindness. A Syrian girl remembers the people that she and her family met on the road to Europe, after escaping conflict back in their homeland.

The structured learning classes also help children better cope with the difficulties and uncertainties they face. Shamim, 11 year old Afghan girl, does not know where her family will eventually settle down, but she is one of the children who actively participates in all educational activities in Tabanovce. She learns English, Macedonian and has even asked for German language lessons too.

Some of the children have missed out on education for several months, some for years. A girls struggles to write down her response to illustrate “kindness” so she simply colours in the girl’s dress in the illustration of the work sheet.

Some children never had the opportunity to learn, read and write. A young Syrian boy drew his friend with open arms to illustrate how his best friend comforts him when he is sad.

Many of the youngest children have actually never had the opportunity to go to school. Curiously, a young boy sneaks a peak in his school bag where his colourful comic books with illustrations from 1,001 Nights are.

Some of the older children are ready to help others catch up on learning they have missed. Samira is a fervent student and a “mentor” for her two year old sister. Equipped with new picture books and with the help of UNICEF supported staff, she is keen to help her learn how to read.

Supporting the inquisitive nature of children that were missing out on education, is vital for learning, and more importantly — for building self-confidence. This Syrian boy was constantly asking for reassurance from the teacher from SOS Children’s Village to see if he is on the right path to answering the questions from the lesson.

Lessons in Arabic, Farsi, English and Macedonian are helping children build their literacy skills in their mother tongue, and new languages. They are fun, and very helpful for building a common understanding between children from different backgrounds and helping them create new friendships.

Life has taught refugee and migrant children many hard life lessons. UNICEF and partners are helping to make sure that regardless who they are or where they came from, children have a chance to hold on to their childhood and learn to be children first. A girl clutches a mobile phone — an essential tool to stay connected with family — as she learns about “acts of kindness” in a civic education class.

UNICEF’s response is generously supported by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), the governments of Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom, UNICEF’s National Committees, individuals and corporate and private partners.