Playtime helps educate Syria’s out-of-school children

The Makani scheme aims to reach more than 90,000 boys and girls aged between six and 18-years-old across Jordan

The UN children’s agency is using life-skill programmes to help plug the education gap for out-of-school Syrian refugee children, and provide support for traumatised youth.

UNICEF’s Makani scheme – meaning ‘my space’ – aims to reach more than 90,000 boys and girls aged between six and 18-years-old across Jordan. Run by NGO partners, the initiative’s 200 shelters will provide informal education and promote learning through play in a safe environment for those at risk of child labour, exploitation and early marriage. The scheme also hopes to equip 58,000 vulnerable teens and young adults with basic life skills.

“Education is protection,” said Manal Al Wazani, former CEO of Save the Children Jordan, one of UNICEF’s NGO partners. “When these children come back to build their country we want them to be stable adults. We have a responsibility to help them.”

Now in its fifth year, Syria’s civil war has forced more than 11 million people to flee their homes, with some 4.7 million seeking refuge in neighbouring nations. Jordan is home to 620,000 Syrians, more than half of whom are children.

While Jordan’s government has provided access to schools for Syrians, issues of transport, capacity and security mean not every child can be catered for. Of the 220,000 school-age Syrian refugees in the Arab country, only 130,000 are enrolled in the public school system. An additional 30,000 children attend non-formal education. Approximately 60,000 children are not enrolled in any form of organised learning.

Kuwait-based NGO Kora Bora, which also partners with UNICEF to reach vulnerable Syrian refugees, uses football to impart life skills to the children it works with . The initiatives uses play to teach verbal and non-verbal communication skills, self-management and team-bonding as well as key social skills.

“Football is particularly popular in the Middle East and North Africa,” said Kora Bora founder, Abdul Razaq Buhijji. “Our programmes capture this power and can work in any sort of environment to teach children important skills.” Such assets are vital building blocks in their development, he added.

It is not just infrastructure that is being damaged. One in three Syrian children have been exposed to some sort of violence, which can have a profound psychological impact.

“You can see it in their drawings. If you ask a Syrian child to draw something they will draw a gun or a fire or something destructive,” said Al Wazani.

Inside Syria, fears grow for a lost generation of children unable to access education and basic needs. A Save the Children report last year found that school enrollment was down to an average of 50 per cent inside the war-torn country. The charity put the cost of 2.8 million Syrian children never returning to school at 5.4 per cent of GDP, or almost $2.18bn.

“Children are the future and if we don’t work to protect these children then we will lose that future,” said Al Wazani.

Photo credit: Philanthropy Age