“I want my people to live in peace and feel the stability again. But to do this, I want to focus on my studies, to empower myself in work later on and establish my future… without school I can’t make it.” Omar
Omar is a 14-year-old Syrian boy who studied at our partner, SAWA’s, education centre for five years, before going on to pursue education at an official school in Lebanon. A star pupil, Omar now regularly comes top of his classes. “Yesterday I got 60/60 in my maths test. When I told my father he didn’t believe me, he even went to ask the teacher himself” he told us with a humorous chuckle.
Despite his impressive academic standing today, Omar’s path through education has not been without extreme challenges. When the war broke out in Syria and their home was severely damaged, Omar and his family were forced to flee Damascus and seek refuge in Lebanon. Here, the lack of healthcare, shelter, food, and jobs has jeopardised families’ abilities to meet their basic needs, forcing more and more children to take up work. For Omar, life also took this all too familiar route. As the economic crisis hit Lebanon in 2019, the lira lost 90% of it’s value, while workers such as Omar’s father, the sole breadwinner of the family, often received no salary increases. For Omar, this was an alarming call to find a job to help his family. This he found, working at a bakery in Bar Elias, but he never lost sight of receiving his education.
Omar insisted on prioritising education, refusing to compromise school for work. It was his father who first heard about SAWA’s educational centres and registered his son to continue his education. Aware of the gap that prolonged displacement has caused in the education of many Syrian refugees, SAWA tailors its programs to serve their needs while providing non-formal education programs as an initial step to ease refugee children and youth back into formal education.
From setting foot in SAWA’s education centre at just 7 years old, Omar’s insistence on learning, and his desire to pursue education showed great determination to not let his difficult circumstances stand in his way. He claims “SAWA established me. After English lessons, I go back home, and use google translate to review the lessons we took and repeat the new words to memorise them.” This passion for learning, he says, is primarily driven by his teachers; he recalled how his teacher, Mohammad Abbas, “made me like the subject a lot. Now, in my new school, I am better than other students in Arabic and maths.”
When asked about his plans for the future, Omar expressed his wish to go back to Syria, and to work to make his country a better place. “I want my people to live in peace and feel the stability again. But to do this, I want to focus on my studies to empower myself in work later on and establish my future… without school I can’t make it.” This is exactly what Hands Up is so proud to support. We believe in giving a hand up, not a handout, and providing children, like Omar, with the services and education they need to provide stability and dignity to their communities and country, empowering them to make their own difference.
“When I go back to Syria, I’ll have the certificate in my hand. I am more privileged than other students.” It is incredible that with your generous support, we are able to provide students like Omar with such life-changing opportunities, but, tragically, there is always more to do. Out of 1.5 million Syrian refugees, 483,000 are school-aged (3 to 18 years old), and around 58% of them remain out of public or accredited schooling.
“Seeing our little pupil, Omar, growing to become an independent, confident decision maker was heart-warming for our teachers, as the seeds of our education approach have grown into fruitful trees.” These words from the SAWA education team show the truly incredible impact the centre has on its children. We are so honoured to be able to provide funds for this education centre, and the salaries of their 17 staff.
We pray that for Omar, and the SAWA team, the New Year brings bright opportunities and prospects. Yet, we also know for sure that it will bring a multitude of struggles. With the continuing socio-economic crisis, and the rocketing prices of fuel, the bitter winter currently setting over Lebanon will be far from easy. Even heating classrooms is currently a struggle, meaning there is a terrifying risk of children missing out on essential teaching time if classrooms are required to close due to low temperatures. Please, consider giving the ultimate gift of education this Christmas, and join us in ensuring the education centre continues to run.
Please donate here.