Syrian refugee teacher changes students’ lives through UNESCO-EU project



Mahmoud, a Syrian refugee and volunteer in a UNESCO-EU informal education programme implemented in partnership with War Child UK, has described how his work improved his own life and that of his students.

Mahmoud, 27, works as part of the UNESCO-EU project team in Zaatari camp in northern Jordan which is currently home to around 80,000 Syrian refugees who fled the Syrian civil war. There are around 30,000 school-aged children, 50 per cent of whom are out of school.

The UNESCO informal education project, funded by the European Union and implemented in partnership with War Child UK, aims 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

He said: “When I first arrived, 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. I wanted to teach, and even more so, to impact children’s lives. 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?’”

Now he feels he has not only contributed to the lives of the children but has benefited himself.

“When I first started working, I was introverted and self-conscious 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 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 programmes helped me become aware of them.”

Mahmoud’s personality and motivation for self-improvement is reflected in a teaching style that yields 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 great 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 concludes this month (January 2016), having benefited nearly 200 students.