Syrian Refugee Children Program Update October 2017
Over 3 million refugees have fled across Syria’s border into Turkey since the conflict began in 2011. Half of this population are kids of school age, and education is the number one opportunity they miss leaving their lives & families behind. The refugees who are living outside the state-operated refugee camps big miss on education opportunities; instead of going to a regular school with predictive schedules, these children bring income by doing odd jobs with abysmal pay and help their single moms or families who are trying to build a new life. There is a huge opportunity gap beyond any number we can share as these children don’t have the required skills to cope with the challenges, and get integrated into the Turkish society. A 16-year-old child who was interviewed by Human Rights Watch in 2016 said “When I picture my future, I see nothing.” It is so sad that she had no real hope for a better future because she cannot go to school. If we fail to close this education gap, it will put an entire generation at risk.
Bridge to Turkiye Fund (BTF) is one of the few US based non-profit global organization investing in funds for the projects that will help to reduce the education gap for these vulnerable children. In 2017, we invested in the production and distribution of a preschool education kit called “Getting Ready for School” for the refugee children ages 4–6 in collaboration with Dr. Selcuk Sirin from New York University. The original kit was in Turkish and it was translated into Arabic. BTF collaborated with four NGOs that provide social services and educational activities in different parts of Turkey.
One of the associations that we collaborated in the summer of 2017 is Citizens’ Assembly (formerly known as Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly) established in 1993. It is a civil society organization working on fundamental rights and freedoms, peace, democracy and pluralism. It aims to introduce values such as life with dignity, the rule of law and justice, accountable, transparent and participatory public administration, gender equality as enshrined in international conventions; an economy which does not destroy the social texture and peace, cities and the planet; resolution of conflicts and problems through peaceful negotiations, consultation and dialogue and to ensure that these values be concretely reflected and spread on a civic basis. Citizens’ Assembly’s Refugee Advocacy and Support Program (RASP) is devoted to ensuring the legal protection of refugees and vulnerable migrants in Turkey; monitoring state policies and practice in the area of asylum and irregular migration control; advocating for legislation and policies in line with international standards; and encouraging public awareness and local ownership. They also prepared leaflets in Kurdish, Arabic and Latin for refugees providing general information on the legal framework applicable to them during their stay in Turkey.
More about the kits…
The educational kit is designed to engage and educate children with activities by focusing on their visual, fine motor, handwriting, listening comprehension and problem solving skills. The set includes four activity books called Seeing, Hearing, Drawing/Writing, Solving as well as a story book and puzzle. There are many coloring, drawing, counting and crafting activities in the books. There are many learning benefits for children to engage in these kind of activities with their peers and educators. Activities aimed at developing and improving concentration & attention skills in small kids. The kit helps in the development of motor skills; hand & eye coordination as the child learns to color within the specified area. As they color and complete their exercises, they create something that is their own, aesthetically pleasing, improving the positive cognitive development of their personality.
Here is what the educators think about the kits…
We delivered 620 educational kits to Citizens’ Assembly to use as a resource in their educational activities for refugee kids in Istanbul. The educators value these because they now have a resource to go to and structure and organize their age appropriate education activities. It became obvious to us that lack of effective resources in refugee education creates hurdle for the teachers and the non-profit organizations serving them. The teachers also like these kits which enables the kids to improve on fine motor skills. Each set comes with a pencil sharpener, crayons, scissors, glue and eraser so that kids can start working on the activities/games and crafts right away in these community centers, and take them back and continue to use at home.
Interestingly, the most valuable resource in the education kit was the story book. The teachers liked it most since the book was written in English, Arabic and Turkish and helped the removal of the language barrier between different ethnicity, Turkish and Arabic speaking kids taking the same workshop or activity. The story time also helped the kids to respect each other and connect with their similarities and differences building friendships even if they didn’t speak the same language.
What do the children think about the kits? What do they like best?
Educators used these kits with the children ages from 5 to 15 in the Citizens’ Assembly’s centers in Istanbul.
5–8 years old kids were excited about the coloring book and the crayons. Instructors said that they used to share crayons in their previous activities, but now they had their own crayons. Educators noticed that kids were so happy to have their own coloring books and crayons.
9–12 years old kids started to work on building a poster with numbers. This group included Arabic and Turkish speaking kids however, they were able to work together since the activity was only about numbers and they had competed against each other and had fun.
12–15 years old kids were able to read and write in Arabic so, they were interested in the story book. Since the book was in English, Arabic, Turkish, they tried to figure out the meanings of words and sentence structures in all three languages.
Given the low rate of enrollment by refugee children in public schools other learning opportunities are crucial to reduce their education gap. The biggest challenge for an NGO who provides catch-up classes, workshops or activities is the lack of resources/tools that help engage kids and encourage them to attend the classes. Our primary goal is to support and provide educational resources to the NGOs that offer educational programs to prepare children to school and daily life in Turkey. We thank a lot to our collaborators, educators, and donors who supported the BTF Refugee Children Programs. With your continuous support, refugee children will finally have the chance to grow up in a healthy and safe environment because every child, everywhere, deserves a bright future.
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