“The Syrian Refugee Crisis has been declared by the international community to be the largest humanitarian disaster in the last 25 years. It changes the face of the world, it changes the face of humanity and it’s not expected to pass from the world in the next generation.”
The “Lost” Generation
Out of the 22.5 million refugees that live in the world today, more than half are under the age of 18, of which 45% are from Syria and Afghanistan. Many children have lived their entire lives under the shadow of a civil war. They have lost parents, brothers, sisters and friends and lived under a constant threat. Their childhood was taken from them and they remained deprived of any formal education – many are illiterate, cannot count to ten or even write their own name.
That is why this generation is often referred to as the “lost” generation. But they are not.
Despite having gone through the most difficult experiences imaginable, it is enough to spend one day amongst these children to know that they are strong, curious and thirsty for childhood experiences and for kind and warm human interaction. These children hope for a better future, one in which they can return home and a have a normal childhood and adolescence. In addition, they wish to acquire the skills necessary to succeed in each community they will end up in.
For this generation, to fulfill its potential, to acquire basic education, and to have adult support, are of ultimate importance. The lack of supportive educational frameworks in refugee camps throughout Europe and the Middle East leaves this generation without basic human rights – among them the right to acquire a proper education.
In order to be able to rebuild their life the “lost generation” needs to be given the opportunity of going to school where they can learn and experience enriching and joyful activities.
It’s Human to Make a Difference.
Who We Are
A group of educators – members of The Hashomer Hatzair Life Movement who joined hands with a group of Arab educators, members of Ajial Movement. Both movements emphasize the importance of humanistic education, and have experience in empowerment of children and youth to take responsibility and developing leadership. In light of the values we hold and teach we feel it is impossible to remain indifferent to the humanitarian crisis happening just a few miles away from us, in Syria.
For this reason, we have initiated the International School Of Peace (ISOP), a low-cost, high-impact school for children between the ages of 5-16 in the refugee camp in the Greek Island of Lesbos.
The International School Of Peace
Lesbos, a Greek Island near Turkey, is a major transit stop for large numbers of refugees. Today 8,500 refugees reside temporarily on the island, of which a 3,400 are children and adolescent. By and large there are no educational structures for refugees on the island, and no educators who can teach, support, hug, and offer hope.
Next to the ‘Kartape’ and ‘Moriah’ refugee camps, in the “One Happy Family” community center for refugees, we have established our educational initiative. In the seven months since its establishment the ISOP had an immense impact on the young people in the camp:
• It provides a stable environment for 400 students who study 35 hours on a weekly basis.
• Children learn major subjects including English, math, reading and writing skills in their own mother tongue – Arabic, Persian of French.
• Teachers from the refugee community who can teach in Arabic or Persian conduct the classes.
• Throughout the week, the children enjoy enrichment activities such as hikes, artistic activities, music, and creative games.
• Older children from the refugee camp are trained to become guides and counselors for the younger students and help in leading the entire school framework.
• Every month a special communal event is conducted in which all parents participate.
Our School Staff
The members of our school staff: Salem and Amani from Syria, Ramzan, Nikos and Katrina from Iran, Abdullah and Javad from Afghanistan and us, Jewish and Arab teachers from Israel.
We put together the school’s staff thinking that the school must answer the needs of the community. If we wish to do that, we need to form the school in full cooperation with the communities that live in the camp. We understood that the establishment of the school should not be executed by us, but by the refugees themselves. When working on something, the focus always remains on the people who are doing the work. Everything depends on them. In a humanitarian work too, the people who do the work (even if it’s for others), will always remain in the center. The only way to put the people in need in the center, is to create an environment which enables them to do for themselves. We established a local team of teachers, out of the desire to give the community the tools and the ability to be independent, and to put its people in the center.
How does a day in ISOP looks like?
08:30 – Meeting the children in their camp and escorting them to the school.
08:45 – Breakfast in the school yard.
09:00 – First lesson – Language: English, Arabic / Persian.
09:45 – Second lesson – Science: Mathematics / Computers.
10:30 – Long recess
11:00 – Third lesson – Humane: Values and Behaviour / Literature.
11:45 – Short recess
12:00 – Fun lesson – Social games, group challenges and creative activities.
13:00 – Lunch
13:30 – Escorting the children back to the camp.
Together with the teaching staff we decided that the educational framework should be structured and with a high level of discipline. If there is something that we learned in our time with the community in the camp, it’s how children need a stable framework to grow in. Since we have been here we meet more and more children that we see in their eyes that they have no educators to set boundaries for them. We discovered that many times humanitarian aid struggles with everything connected to education. We met many volunteers who came with an open heart and the goal to make the children happy and to make their lives better. Many times the will to do good for the children is leads to, in fact, appeasing them. When you meet children who do not have much in life it’s easy to get used to appeasing them, giving them everything they want and permitting them to do whatever they want.
The difference between appeasement and education lies in the ability of educators to say “No” and to set boundaries. A child who gets used to adults who try to appease with the goal to make him happy, experiences an unstable adult world, that is not consistent and lacking in confidence. We put an emphasis on a stable framework for the children. A framework with clear rules that will help the students to develop confidence and create a routine. The lessons begin on time, a child can go out during a lesson only by getting permission from the teacher. These children remind us that anyone who wants to be an educator needs to have deep roots that don’t waiver in a storm, a trunk that can be climbed on without it breaking and a treetop full of leaves and fruit ,to linger in its shade and eat from its fruits.
Adult Education Program
When the children finish their school day, the building becomes a school for adults. In which are registered more than 100 men and women from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Congo and The Ivory Coast.
In the beginning we decided that alongside language and crafts classes for men and women separately, it is also important for us to introduce mixed classes of men and women together. Almost immediately many questions arose about whether women and men should be taught together or separately. Some of the teachers (both male and female) claimed that in order to integrate into European culture, people should be accustomed to mixed gender encounters while others argued that the traditions of potential students should be respected and thus women and men should be taught separately. After long conversations we understood that it was not our job and it was neither the time nor the place to change people’s cultural habits. We understood that our job is to give people a safe space to learn in the extreme realities of life they are experiencing now and to create an oasis of security and growth within a space of uncertainty and doubt. Together we realized that a natural process of connecting begins when people learn and expand their horizons and the ability to communicate with the world.
We are building our schedule according to the changing needs of the various communities.
During the construction of the school and in order to get to know the families in the camps, we launched the noon activities. At first we came with a mat and a little equipment and from day to day more and more special encounters were created. One of them is the embroidery group of Afghan women. It started one day when the mothers of the children came to see what we were doing. That evening we made a sample of a small bag, and the next day when the mothers came again we showed them the bag and asked them if they wanted to make one. They were excited and sat down. After they chose fabrics and threads we learned to sew and embroider together. Thus the embroidery group was created. I addition, we have a variety of other noon activities.
From the Diary of the ISOP founders:
On the first parents’ day that we organized, 40 parents from Syria and Afghanistan came to sign up their children for school. The meeting was led by Abdullah from Afghanistan and Salam from Syria. We agreed ahead of time with the staff of teachers that we would sit on the side so that it would be clear that the school belongs to the community and exists for it. The meeting took place in Arabic and Persian. Towards the end of the meeting we noticed that all of the parents and children were beginning to look at us and then Salam came to us and one by one took us to stand in front everyone. After we all stood a bit embarrassed in a line, Salem began to speak. He stopped every few sentences so that Valid and Amir will translate into Hebrew and so that Abdullah will translate into Persian: “You see these people here? They are Jews from Israel and Arabs from Palestine who decided to come here to build together with us our first school. They are our brothers and sisters. Jews, Muslims and Christians – we are all brothers. We are one family. I want to say to our new friends thank you. Thank you that you are here with us. Thank you for these last weeks in which you worked and prepared this whole place with us. Together we will show everyone that the world can look different.” When he finished speaking everyone in the room clapped and one of the Syrian mothers stood before us with tears in her eyes. We also had to dry the tears from our own eyes because the atmosphere in the room was full of the feeling that something historic had happened here. A moment of benevolence. Very slowly the parents began to leave and we stayed in the room with Salam. He came to us, hugged us and said “From this room we will begin to change the world.”
Building the School
To erect the school building, we decided to join the global and economical trend of building with containers. Using two large containers that we attached and sawed, we created a 60 square meter structure divided into two classrooms. Outside the building there is a yard which will become an educational and experiential space. We plan to engage the children in its development and maintenance.
The school is part of a larger community center currently being built by the Swiss Cross organization with which we are collaborating. We did not build the school alone. With our partners from the organization we contacted professionals in the camps – builders, painters, welders, carpenters, etc., and we built the school together with them. Nearly 30 professionals worked with us on the school structure. Every day we worked together, ate together and, without paying attention, became best friends.
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Abu-Sumer and Wassis from Syria together with Yasin from Tunisia are welders who were responsible for all the iron work in containers. Muhammad from Syria is the electrician who installed the lighting system and the sinks in the classrooms. Opal, Ray and John are the Nepali carpenters who ran the construction of partitions, doors and windows. Yasin Maljir and Osam from Congo conducted the painting in the building. Abu Muhammad and Jalal from Syria laid down the concrete foundations and put up the fence. With them and with many others we whitewashed, sawed, sewed, and painted. Together with them we discovered that when people invest their energy in creating and building together, all the barriers disappear, the face softens and the heart opens. The process of joint construction revealed daily the self-worth that manifests itself only in autonomous action. Those same people with defeated faces, whom the press calls refugees, straightened up and found meaning – even if for a few weeks or only for a few moments. Thanks to them, we learned that doing with the people is much more meaningful than doing for them.
School construction process:
If you wish to consider contributing to the ISOP, U.S. tax-deductible contributions of at least $25 may be sent (and must be made payable) to P.E.F. Israel Endowment Funds, Inc., 630 Third Ave, Ste 1501, New York, NY 10017 with a recommendation that it be used for The Nachshonim Youth Clubs, 58-0511095.
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