Girls Inspire at the Zaatari Refugee Camp: Why All Children Deserve an Education

Girls in the TIGER Girls program at the Zaatari refugee camp. Photo credit: Anton Demerjian for UN Foundation

Four doctors, two teachers, a lawyer, an artist, an architect, and an engineer. That’s the response we received when we asked a group of girls at the Zaatari refugee camp what they want to be when they grow up.

Children around the world have big dreams for their futures, and these girls are no different. Yet, as refugees, they face unique challenges.

The Zaatari camp in Jordan is home to approximately 80,000 people — families who have had to leave their homes and their lives in Syria behind because of the ongoing conflict. Approximately 55% of Zaatari’s population is under the age of 18 — making education vital, but difficult to provide.

There are nine schools at Zaatari, serving about 20,000 children. Girls and boys go to school in three-hour shifts. And that’s if they go to school at all.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), only 50% of refugee children are enrolled in primary education and only 25% of refugee adolescents are in secondary school.

Displaced children can face many barriers to education including: a shortage of schools and teachers; language differences; and rules that make it hard to enroll and get certified in national education systems. And in many communities, girls struggle with issues like forced marriage. In addition, education for children in emergency situations is severely underfunded. On average, only 2% of humanitarian aid goes toward education according to UNICEF.

The result is tragic: Tens of millions of children around the world are being deprived of a basic human right.

“We will lose a generation if we don’t invest in education.”

In August, the United Nations Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council visited Zaatari to learn about the innovation happening at the camp and how entrepreneurs can support refugees.

UNHCR’s manager of the camp, Hovig Etyemezian, spoke to the group and emphasized the importance of supporting education, saying: “We will lose a generation if we don’t invest in education.”

Photo credit: Anton Demerjian for UN Foundation

Education can provide hope, opportunity, a safe space, and a sense of normalcy, which refugee children need and deserve.

That’s where Zaatari’s TIGER Girls program comes in.

TIGER stands for “These Inspiring Girls Enjoy Reading.” It’s a community-based initiative at Zaatari that provides educational activities for refugee girls in the camp. Syrian women at the camp work with the girls as coaches, and the program brings together girls who are in school with girls who are not in school to read, learn language and other skills, and do projects such as plays.

Photo credit: Anton Demerjian for UN Foundation

The TIGER Girls initiative, which the UN Foundation has supported, helps build confidence and empower girls. One girl we met in the program immediately raised her hand when we asked the group about their favorite subjects. She told us that she likes learning English and Arabic and wants to be a doctor so people don’t suffer.

She deserves that chance — and so do all children.

Making Sure Children Forced from Their Homes Have the Chance to Learn

Photo credit: Anton Demerjian for UN Foundation

As the refugee crisis continues to make headlines, there is a growing movement to make sure more refugee children have the chance to learn.

Last year, 193 world leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, which includes a goal on ensuring “inclusive and quality education for all” by 2030. To achieve this goal and the mission of the sustainable development agenda to end poverty and create a world of opportunity for all, we must focus on reaching refugee and displaced children, especially girls, who are among the world’s most vulnerable people.

“Children don’t need education even in emergencies; they need education especially in emergencies,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake has said. “Without an education, how will they gain the knowledge and skills to chart their own futures — and to someday lend their hands to building more peaceful, stable futures for their societies? And how can we hope to reach our global development goals for education if we don’t focus on children trapped in humanitarian emergencies ?”

The UN has called on the international community to increase support and funding for education for children in humanitarian crises.

At the World Humanitarian Summit in May, UNICEF and global and national organizations launched “ Education Cannot Wait,” a new fund that aims to help 75 million children and youth kept out of school because of emergencies and protracted crises get an education.

Additionally, the UN Foundation’s Girl Up campaign raises awareness and funds to support UN programs that help girls in vulnerable communities. Right now, the Girl Up community is encouraging U.S. leaders to protect the rights of girls in vulnerable settings to learn.

As world leaders prepare to meet in September at a summit on refugees and migrants at the UN General Assembly, education must be part of the discussion.

To raise your voice for education for refugees so girls like the ones we met in Zaatari can follow their dreams, sign UNHCR’s petition to stand #WithRefugees:

Photo credit: Anton Demerjian for UN Foundation