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Firefly for Syrians: visit to our Centre in Antakya, Turkey – May 2016

Our Project Coordinator, Maria Chambers, visited the Antakya Centre (Turkey) in May 2016 to help our local partner going through the initial setting up phase. She came back with great news, and a very positive feeling:

 

“On the way to work there was a little boy sitting on the pavement waiting with his book in a plastic bag. He was one of the students… Apparently he waits for Fadia [the local project leader] every morning and is always the first to arrive. He was greeted with a hug and a “sabah al khair habibi” [good morning my love]. He helped unlock the Centre with a huge smile ready for the day with his new friends.”

“…what I came away with was the wonderful caring family feel that the Centre has. Children clearly enjoy being at the Centre. I was overwhelmed by their enthusiasm for learning and attentiveness during lessons…”

 

We are in Antakya to create a safe educational and creative space for young Syrian refugees. Displaced and traumatised by an extremely violent and prolonged civil war, many young Syrian refugees have had no education for a number of years and are currently working in subsistence jobs forced by necessity. We want to help them recovering a sense of normality and developing the essential intellectual skills and knowledge for their future reintegration into formal education.

 

The reality on the ground, however, is hard and challenging, as Maria experienced during her visit to the Centre:

 

“We were briefly interrupted by a father and his two boys coming to register for classes. Their story was typical. They were from Aleppo. The boys were 10 and 11, they could barely remember when they had last been to school, maybe four years ago just first grade in Syria. Since then they have been internally displaced before fleeing to Turkey. One very shy, the younger confident and cheeky. Both boys were working and had been since arriving in Turkey. They have a sister, I couldn’t understand how old she was maybe 13, and 2 younger siblings. The father didn’t want to register his daughter because they live far away and he worries about her safety travelling to the Centre. Fadia explained that we may be able to offer transport for them. I really felt very sad, somehow when you are faced with a father, whose face tells a million stories of hardship and wants the best for his children, and two scruffy boys who have an air of worldly knowledge way above their years, transfixed by the printer magically printing their registration forms, it really hits you. Then you think about the sister and mother confined by protection to her home it’s really powerful… an experience I will carry.”

 

Realities like the one Maria witnessed can only further strengthen our commitment to keep providing protection to, nurturing the intellects and seeding hopes and love at the hearts of young refugees.

It is with great joy and appreciation to our supporters that we would like to share some great new developments at our Antakya Centre:

 

PURPOSE OF THE VISIT:

  1. help with initial developments at the Centre
  2. review of accounting and cost record systems and prepare the project budget for the next year
  3. meeting new teaching and support staff

1   Initial developments at the Centre

1.1   Children Enrolment

70 children have been enrolled so far – 10 more than anticipated. A number of them belong to our main target group: that is, children who are currently out of school and working to support themselves and their families. The other children have been granted a place in local schools but are very behind with their studies: the Centre is assisting these children with an accelerated learning programme focussing on Arabic and Maths.

1.2   Support for Children
1.2.1   Financial Support

Fadia, our local project leader, has found a local Syrian donor who is prepared to supplement the income of refugee families in need in order to enable their children to attend the programme. He is prepared to donate TL100 for children under the age of 11 and TL120 for children over the age of 11 a month (by way of comparison working children generally earn around TL100-150 per month). The same donor donated 26 desks to the Centre. We see this as a clear indication that local people see value in the project and fully trust Fadia and her staff.

1.2.2   Refreshments

We are giving the children a daily snack. Fadia is currently talking to local Turkish community leaders at the Mosque who may well make a donation to cover this.

1.2.3   Transport

Local public transport can be very intimidating for young children. It is complex to understand and also relatively expensive. Many parents do not feel at ease leaving their children travelling on their own on the local public transport.

The location of our Centre has been purposely chosen for it to be easily accessible from the areas where Syrian refugees live. Most children live at walking distance to the Centre. For those living too far to walk, Fadia has arranged an improvised school-bus service. A van driver, whose nephews attend the Centre, has kindly accepted Fadia’s offer to reimburse fuel costs and little more in exchange of the service. This option is very low cost compared to any of the alternatives.

Extending the reach of our Centre through the provision of safe transport is one of our future priorities. Further transport assistance will be provided as soon as funding will be found.

1.3   New Courses: English, Turkish and Arabic Language Courses

A donor – whom we are extremely thankful to – has recently offered to sponsor the integration of English and Turkish language courses into our educational programme. The English course will start in June, while the Turkish course will start in mid-July. An earlier addition to the programme, the Arabic course has already started and is complementing the creative math course.

1.4   New Classroom

A storeroom on the top floor of the Centre has been converted into another classroom. Suitable for classes of 20 students, the room is provided with electricity, a fan and a whiteboard and furnished with desks kindly donated by a local school.

1.5   New Computer Facilities

Three laptops donated by CIL Management Consultants have been delivered and setup with Arabic interface and Windows 10.

1.6   Teaching Timetable

Classes ran on a part-time basis during May whilst setup and recruitment of staff was taking place. From the first week of June onward, classes will run full time, except for the Ramadan month (7th June – 7th July) when classes will run from 1.30pm until 5pm. Staff will be employed on a part time or full time basis accordingly.

 

2   Project budget and accounting systems

Fadia and Maria have set up an efficient system to record expenditures and a bilingual Arabic-English account system to ease evaluation and monitoring. The project budget for the forthcoming year has also been defined.

 

3   New Teaching and support Staff

All staff members are Syrian refugees. They all share similar stories of hardship, and currently live in difficult conditions. Many have lost relatives and friends during the conflict. All of them have abandoned their homes to find refuge in overcrowded, arranged accommodations in a foreign country. Sharing similar experiences to the children attending the Centre, our local staff members perfectly relate to their suffering and are exceptionally caring towards them – this is a main reason for why we prefer supporting projects initiated and run by locals. An important byproduct of this project is the provision of much needed support to staff members and their own children – who are all enrolled at the Centre. Here below, we introduce some of the staff drawing from Maria’s visit notes:

3.1   Fadia

Project leader and maths teacher working with younger children: excellent lessons, very gentle and compassionate teaching style. Her pragmatic approach is realistically ambitious. Very organised and exceptionally hard working, she has recruited a strong team and created a lovely atmosphere in the Centre.

3.2   Mohammad

Arabic language teacher working with older children: highly experienced teacher, a very interactive teaching style, gentle and kind with the children, very successful in nurturing confidence. His teaching style is creative and entertaining, combining games with some complex Arabic grammar concepts. He taught in Latakia (Syria) until six months ago, before his home and the school where he was working were bombed. He currently lives with his brother and sister and their families in difficult conditions: 15 people in a room. His salary will enable him to rent a larger home for all his wider family. He was thrilled to be able to borrow one of the donated laptops for planning his lessons. His son attends the Centre.

3.3   Tarek

Arabic language teacher working with younger children: his teachings were a joy to watch; younger children very much enjoyed his lessons.

3.4   Farez

Maths teacher working with older children: very experienced teacher, good and engaging lessons. He fled from Aleppo two years ago.

3.5   Mariam

Maths assistant: very focused and a hard worker. Having recently lost her husband, she is currently single-handedly supporting her five children.

3.6   Fatma

Employed for the month of May as a general assistant for registering children: very efficient kind and caring. Many children are very nervous when first coming to the Centre. The initial registration is a rather sensitive process. Registering involves the disclosure of information on educational as well as personal histories. Many parents and children feel unease going through the interviewing process, and often struggle to disclose or remember all the information required: e.g. revealing how much money their children are earning, describing what their current living conditions are or when their children last went to school or what grade they were at. Fatma’s kind and caring touch has been of invaluable help.

3.7   Razan

A cleaner on paper, but actually a sort of mother of the Centre. With a very positive attitude, she helps wherever she can – e.g. making displays, buying resources etc. Currently living with her husband and two children in a very small house with no furniture, and a leaking roof, she is thrilled with her new job which she puts her heart and soul into. Her children attend the Centre. She is highly valued by Fadia and rightly so.

 

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