Young refugees find hope in UAE-Jordanian camp

They escaped the horrors of war in Syria, leaving behind friends and school as they fled a country that is unlikely to be the same again.

But on their first day of class at a UAE-Jordan-run refugee camp, Mohammed Agaila and Mohaned Ubail forged a friendship that has given them hope.

Mohammed, from Daraa, and Mohaned, from Homs, have spent the last four years in school at Mrajeeb Al Fhood refugee camp.

They are amongst the fortunate ones.

The education of hundreds of thousands of Syrians is on hold and academic futures are at risk.

The 14-year-old boys dropped out of school in Syria to escape the militias sweeping through their cities in search of rival rebels. Both their fathers were targeted and fled in fear for their lives.

“Of course I miss some of my friends, not a single one of them came with us,” Mohammed said.

“I think there are some who escaped here to Jordan or other places, maybe others disappeared.”

Surrounded by his students, Ghasan Al Hasan, a refugee who escaped Homs four years ago teaches grades 3 to 7 to more than 400 students in the UAE-Jordanian camp and even gives seminars in Al Zaatari camps to teachers. (Photo Credit: Naser Al Wasmi / The National)

However temporary their situation, they are hopeful they will return home to their homes.

“I want to go back, but I want to go back with him, and that way we can go to school together and grow up to play football around the world,” said Mohaned.

“I’ll probably become better than him at dribbling because he’s growing taller.”

Mrajeeb Al Fhood is home to 7,000 Syrian refugees. The once-temporary camp is becoming a permanent fixture.

But there are sporadic power outages and even the most dedicated of students cannot study without light.

Now a campaign, called UAE Beacon of Hope, is aiming to change that.

This weekend, Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, the campaign’s founder, and Akon, the American rapper and music producer, visited the camp as 2,000 solar-powered lights were given to residents.

At the camp, the lights are distributed to the others around the country that have been less fortunate – places where blackouts have lasted months.

Those assembling the lights are also learning skills.

“It feels great to give back and to empower children through a hands-on solar-light workshop,” Sheikha Shamma said.

“Education is key to lifting individuals out of poverty, and Beacon of Hope aims to empower children through practical lessons in sustainability.”

UAE Beacon of Light took inspiration from Akon’s own campaign, Lighting Africa, which seeks to ensure rural communities are lit up, meaning students can read and study and parents can cook for their families.

Ghasan Al Hasan, 42, who has spent four years at the camp, said education is their only way the children will succeed in life, having been what they have been through.

“These children are our hope and they are the one thing that gives us a feeling of moving forward in an otherwise stagnant situation,” said Mr Al Hasan, a teacher.

“We have struggled through a lot, but it’s these children that we need to breathe life into and we can do that through education.”

With the lights and educational support, other camp residents said that investing in the children is essential in returning a part of their humanity, after the atrocities they have witnessed.

“If I, a fully grown man, wake up in the middle of the night thinking about the horrors of when they started bombing my home in Homs, how do you think these boys are? Every single one has been scarred,” said Firas Al Horani, 52.

His neighbour, Manaf Fuad has, on many occasions, had to come to his home in the middle of the night to calm him.

“Sometimes, he lives it all over again, the atrocities that we went through,” he said.

“But we’re all here under the light of God and we’re all here to help each other and better the lives of our children, to make sure they continue school.”