Hamza carries himself with a stoicism that you would likely associate with someone older. Even though he is only 11 years old, he has had to grow up fast. The violence in Syria forced his family to flee. He arrived in Jordan with his mother and younger brother Yacob; their father had stayed behind. Earlier this year, they found out he had been killed.
Hamza’s young face is serious, his smiles sporadic. But, when one erupts the transformation is instantaneous, and his grin is contagious. You can’t help but smile along with him.
And he smiles a lot more these days. The brothers attend an informal education programme operated by the Middle East Children’s Center MECI at the Asma’a Bint Omais School in Ramtha. It’s the first time either of the boys has ever been to school, and they love it.
“I like the school because I like to learn” says Hamza, and he doesn’t have a favorite class, because “they’re all are my favorite, I don’t ever want school to finish.”
Alongside other Syrian and Jordanian children ages 6-12, the boys take three classes a day in subjects like Arabic, English, math, life skills, and art. The programme is designed to help kids who have fallen behind catch-up, whether that means Jordanian children who are struggling in school, or Syrian children who cannot rejoin the regular curriculum. Neither of the boys had received any type of formal schooling before arriving in Jordan, meaning that they weren’t eligible to enroll in regular classes at a Jordanian public school.
The programme also offers an important opportunity to socialize and build relationships children from different backgrounds, something that the brothers would be missing out on otherwise.
His teachers tell us that what is especially striking is the progress the brothers have made in the relatively short time they have been enrolled in the programme. When they first started, Hamza stuttered when he spoke and Yacob barely spoke at all. They kept to themselves, and struggled to interact with their peers.
This kind of behavior is not unique among MECI’s students, many of whom have experienced severe psychological and emotional trauma. But this programme is a lifeline for the brothers and the more than 90,000 Syrian refugee children who remain outside of any type of formal education.
On the day we visit, Hamza is eager to show us what he is working on in class. He opens his notebook, turning the pages and reading out loud the comments his teacher has made in red ink: “Jayid jidan” (good job), “mumtaz!” (excellent!).
He smiles. And we can’t help but smile too.
Special thanks to MECI for organizing a field visit for this story.
Project name: MECI's non-curricular educational clubs in Salt and Ramtha
JRP Specific Objective: REF 2: Access to education sustained for all vulnerable boys and girls (children, adolescents and youth) affected by the Syria crisis
JRP Project Title: REF 2.1 Equal access to education opportunities
Project duration: 10 months
Project Budget: USD 323,067
Financing Agency: UNICEF
Implementing Partner: Middle East Children’s Institute