An inspirational Syrian Refugee teacher changes students’ lives through UNESCO-EU project in Zaatari

Mahmoud, A Syrian volunteer in the UNESCO-EU informal education program implemented in partnership with War Child UK describes how his involvement with the project improved the lives of his students, and himself.

January 14, 2016. “When I first arrived [to Zaatari], I thought our stay would be temporary, and that soon enough we’d all be back home. When that appeared to be far-fetched… I gathered up the neighbourhood’s children and conducted classes for them. I felt like I needed to help the children, since they weren’t getting their education anywhere else.” Expressed Mahmoud, a 27-year-old Syrian refugee who works as a teacher with War Child UK as part of their UNESCO-EU project team in Zaatari camp.

Zaatari camp in northern Jordan is currently home to around 80,000 Syrian refugees who escaped the chaos of the Syrian civil war.  There are around 30,000 school-aged children, yet almost 50% of these children are out of school. The UNESCO informal education project, funded by the European Union and implemented in partnership with War Child UK, is playing its part to give vulnerable children in Zaatari a brighter future through the provision of education and psychosocial support. It is also providing parents and caregivers with tools and strategies to further support their children's education and overall wellbeing.

Mahmoud started working with War Child UK, eventually joining the UNESCO-EU project team, after a previous position ran out of funding. “I felt deflated and frustrated,” he said. “I wanted to teach, and even more so, to impact children’s lives. I started looking for another teaching position, and shortly after my friends told me they heard of a child-focused organization working in Zaatari, and that it concerned itself mainly with their psychosocial wellbeing and education. I asked them, ‘Where do I sign up?’”

“When I first started working, I was introverted and self-conscious.” He continued, “But working with War Child changed me on a personal level. I had a hard time meeting new people before this, but the friendly atmosphere and camaraderie of the staff made me feel at home very quickly. The iDEAL sessions we give to the children have even helped me improve on my own weaknesses, and identify my strengths. Sometimes we have weaknesses and strengths we don’t realize; our psychosocial support programs helped me become aware of them.”

Mahmoud’s personality and motivation for self-improvement is reflected in a teaching style that has proven to yield results among his students. “I believe in ‘edutainment’; education that’s fun. I like to make the children feel involved and excited, and I like to make them laugh throughout the class. It keeps them paying attention and it’s a great tool to make information stick in their minds. I appreciate the benefits of engaging with my students on a personal level, being a mentor as well as a teacher, and I always try to be a good role model for them.” The UNESCO-EU project puts a heavy emphasis on student centred learning, and Mahmoud sets a good example for others to follow.

In addition to his other positive contributions to the project, Mahmoud embodies UNESCO’s commitment to lifelong learning saying, “I want my students to go back to formal schools, and as for myself, I want to continue my education and get my master’s degree. Learning never stops, and nor should I.”

The UNESCO-EU informal education project implemented in partnership with War Child UK will conclude this month, having benefited nearly 200 students in districts 7 and 10.