Nesrin Ayoub is the head-teacher of an UNRWA-run girls’ primary school of 450 girls aged 6-16 years in Ein Hilweh Refugee Camp, in Lebanon. All the children are all Palestine refugees from Lebanon and Syria. People in the Ein Hilweh Camp live in harsh conditions of socio-economic challenges and unstable security conditions where armed clashes and riots erupt many times a year.
Nesrin is spearheading our campaign #EducationOnTheMove which tracks migrants and refugees all over the world as they try to access education in their new countries. Its aim is to help us understand the messages in the forthcoming 2019 GEM Report, Migration, displacement and education: Building bridges, not walls, in the context of peoples’ real-life experiences.
She has witnessed stray bullets entering her class when teaching, armed clashes erupting while in school, with the school sometimes hit, and windows smashed. Such riots lead to students being evacuated to shelters, and even helped to escape outside of the camp to seek shelter elsewhere. Schools in the camp shut for several days during the school year.
Nesrin herself had nightmares from her own childhood experiences until she was 40 years old, and now meets many children traumatized by the fighting. As with the other teachers in the camp, she faces numerous challenges helping the children to come back to school, providing psycho-social support for the children, and covering up for the teaching days lost.
Nesrin’s students are the lucky few. Not only has Nesrin benefitted from psycho-social and emergency training, but as a Palestinian refugee born in the camp she has a natural empathy with them. In this blog she describes some of the ups and downs of the new term.
“On the first day of September my heart was pounding with joy as I crossed the army check point at the entrance of the camp. My primary school had opened its doors for the new academic year, against the odds. It’s no secret that UNRWA is facing an unprecedented funding crisis and it was feared that around 500,000 students who attend its schools across the middle east, (including the students at my school) would be forced to stay home this term, missing out on the education that is their right.
It’s true that some of our classes will be very crowded with up to 45 students or more; but we’ll make the best of the situation. Being a former UNRWA student, and an UNRWA-trained teacher, now a head teacher, I feel indebted to the generosity of the international community and its continuous support to Palestine refugees. This generosity motivates me to work as hard as I can to give students the chance of a better future.”
As it does every year, UNRWA provided the 450 students at my school (and all other UNRWA schools) with books, stationary, including to all the students from Syria. We are all holding our hopes high that the school will stay open throughout this academic year. The first day went phenomenally well, and on the second day, we held a graduation ceremony for grade nine students who had passed official exams. The celebration was very joyous and was generously funded by the Belgian government.
But our joy did not last long. Due to the unstable security situation in the camp, we lost 4 of the 23 days we were supposed to teach to forced closure. And for each day we close, we need another day to restore the sense of normalcy in classes.
We conduct psycho-social support sessions, establish communication trees for emergency communications with parents, reflect on evacuation drills and agree on how to compensate students for the teaching hours lost. Within reform initiatives, UNRWA has trained us well to lead Education in Emergencies, but we still need to draw on our own person resilience to cope with reliving this scenario over and over again.
At the United Nations General Assembly the world had shown its love and support to Palestine Refugees and to UNRWA. On the 5th of October, World Teacher’s Day, my heart was pounding again. I’m a refugee serving refugees and nothing will prevent me from creating happy memories for my students. Hope springs eternal!”
And look out for our next guest-blog from a Refugee Education Co-ordinator, Evi, based in Volos, Greece. She works with Syrian and Iraqi refugees, helping to settle them into their accommodation and preparing their children to attend mainstream Greek-language schools and pre-schools – no easy task.