A suburb of Giza called 6th of October City is home to many of the 115,000 Syrian refugees currently living in Egypt.
Many Syrian children have integrated well into Egyptian life with the support of a Syrian-run academy offering schooling and psychosocial support to 1,400 war-affected children with the support of Plan International.
The partnership, part of Plan International’s Education in Harmony project, focuses on the education and protection of Syrian and Egyptian children aged 4 -14. The project also works with refugee and host communities to increase understanding, cooperation and ensure gender equality.
Ten-year-old Ahmed attends the academy. Until 3 years ago he enjoyed a typical childhood in Damascus and has happy memories of his school where he achieved top marks.
Support our Syrian refugee crisis appeal When talking about leaving Syria, he says: “There was destruction everywhere around us and heavy shooting at our apartment.” Ahmed’s family hid in a bunker which came under attack. Three of his relatives were killed.
The Education in Harmony project has helped Ahmed to make the best of Egyptian life. He still doesn’t feel safe and worries for his relatives who have remained in Syria. However, he is optimistic about the future. “Within 4 or 5 years the situation will be much better and I’ll be able to return to my country,” he says.
His mother, Abeer Ahmed, says the project has helped Ahmed turn his life around. She says: “There is care and kindness between the children and the teachers. Ahmed has started to communicate and go out with his friend. This makes me very happy. He’s becoming an ordinary child.”
Freeza and her son, Abdel-Latif, left Damascus after seeing her parents’ house shelled and her cousins and brother killed. The events have caused Abdel-Latif to become isolated and introverted.
“My son is easily spooked by loud noises and sudden movements”, says Freeza. “He refuses to sit away from me no matter where we go and refuses to leave the house on his own.”
However, psychosocial support is helping Abdel-Latif to overcome his ordeal. “When it is time for the remedial classes, Abdel-Latif is noticeably joyful. He enjoys being there,” says Freeza.
Psychosocial treatment is provided to pupils by consultant psychotherapist, Yousry. “Children have been badly affected by the violence they witnessed in Syria and by the separation of their families,” he says.
Through recreational activities he encourages them to interact, play and express themselves. He also encourages Syrian children to integrate with their Egyptian peers to give them a sense of belonging in their new surroundings.
“Many Syrians can’t adapt because they are living in closed communities and not mingling enough with others,” says Yousry. “They are often introverted and they can feel unaccepted by Egyptians.”
Science teacher Enas, who is receiving training on conflict-sensitive schooling as part of the project, is happy that the Syrian and Egyptian children are integrating more. She says: “If I ask about a Syrian girl who is absent that day, an Egyptian girl will answer. They are friends.”
Those running the project have noticed a positive change in behavior from many of the children. Project coordinator Shaheer says: “When the project started, distress was very evident in the children. A child hearing a plane passing overhead might hide under the table, but these examples have decreased.”
So far Plan International’s Education in Harmony project has supported 26,000 Syrian refugees to overcome the stress and upheaval they have experienced and adapt to their new lives in the Egyptian governorates of Giza, Damietta and Alexandria.
Photos by Heba Khalifa.