Civil war has forced over 120,000 Syrian refugees to flee to Egypt. Many have suffered emotional distress as a result of the conflict and upheaval they have experienced.
Plan International’s Education in Harmony project is helping Syrian children recover and integrate into Egyptian schools and society. So far, the project has benefited over 26,000 Syrians who have settled in Greater Cairo, Alexandria and Damietta.
“She was terrified”
Support our Syrian refugee crisis appeal Rana, 11, used to live in Aleppo, Syria, but the conflict forced her to leave. She arrived in the Cairo suburb of 6th of October City with her family over 3 years ago.
Despite being 7 when she left, Rana insists she doesn’t remember Syria and that she doesn’t want to visit. “I like Egypt most and I don’t want to go anywhere. Egypt is better,” she says.
Rana’s mother, Aziza Mahmoud, says her daughter can recall everything about her hometown but she chooses not to discuss it for fear of being forced to return.
They have helped her overcome the trauma.
“At the beginning she was terrified,” says Aziza Mahmoud. “She would put her hands over her ears because she was fearful of overhead planes.
“We’d been living in a city that witnessed the war so there were always planes flying and tanks standing around. Rana was terrified.”
Rana is attending a Syrian-run school that is part of the Education in Harmony project. It provides schooling and psychosocial support to 1,400 children between 4 and 14, many of whom have been left severely distressed by the war.
“I think she has already started her recovery”, says Rana’s mother. “They have helped her overcome the trauma.”
“There was destruction everywhere”
Ahmed, 10, enjoyed a typical childhood in Damascus. He has many fond memories of life in the Syrian capital. Now, along with his 5 siblings, he finds himself living in Egypt. He attends the same school as Rana.
“There was destruction everywhere around us and heavy shooting at our apartment,” Ahmed says. His building in Damascus was evacuated and his father was arrested.
Ahmed’s family hid in a bunker when their apartment came under fire in August 2012. After armed men attacked the shelter, killing 3 relatives, the surviving family members were so terrified that they stayed hidden underground for 6 days.
There is care and kindness between the children and the teachers.
Nearly 5 years later, Ahmed is still deeply upset. For a while he slept under his bed to shield himself, believing that bombs might drop on his house.
His mother says the school has helped Ahmed turn his life around. “There is care and kindness between the children and the teachers. Ahmed has started to communicate and go out with his friends and his awareness has increased. This makes me very happy. He’s becoming an ordinary child.”
Ahmed still doesn’t feel safe and worries for his relatives who have remained in Syria but he hopes to return home. “Within 4 or 5 years the situation will be much better, and I’ll be able to return to my country,” he says.
“It is my duty to help children”
22 year-old Rakhan arrived in Egypt from Homs in 2013 and now works at the school for Syrian children in 6th of October City. Rakhan himself lost cousins and friends to the conflict and knows the long-term psychological effects of bloodshed.
“Seventy per cent of Syrian children here are suffering from psychological distress”, he says. “War-affected children are often isolated and alone. There are too many memories of blood, death and fear.”
Back in Syria he volunteered for the Red Cross, helping families to escape the conflict. Now he is helping children overcome it.
There are too many memories of blood, death and fear.
“The psychological side is very important as a lot of Syrian children witnessed the death of a father, brother, relative or friend”, he says.
“These children feel as if they can’t adapt and act as if they are only here temporarily and will return to Syria. They can’t accept the idea of living in Egypt, so they reject it.
“I feel it is my duty to help children who are living outside of Syria, for the sake of Syria”, he says. “I am hoping for them to be with their families again.”