Opinion

A teenager from Syria speaks for refugee children – Muzoon Almehellan

In this 2014 file photo, a Syrian refugee girl sits in a classroom at a Lebanese public school where only Syrian students attend classes in the afternoon, at Kaitaa village in north Lebanon. UNICEF said in 2016 that one-third of Syrians under the age of 18, or about 3.7 million, were born since an uprising against President Bashar Assad erupted in 2011 and escalated into a civil war.
In this 2014 file photo, a Syrian refugee girl sits in a classroom at a Lebanese public school where only Syrian students attend classes in the afternoon, at Kaitaa village in north Lebanon. UNICEF said in 2016 that one-third of Syrians under the age of 18, or about 3.7 million, were born since an uprising against President Bashar Assad erupted in 2011 and escalated into a civil war. AP

I still remember clearly the day my father decided to leave Syria: Feb. 27, 2013.

I didn’t want to flee my beloved country, because my country is my identity. It’s where my childhood is and where my memories are. And I was sad to leave my friends and my school behind. I knew that if I lost my education that would be the end of my story.

Before leaving our house in Daraa, my father asked all of us to pack the things we needed the most. It mustn’t be heavy, he said. But I told myself to pack my schoolbooks, because I realized that my education would be the most powerful thing in my life.

We walked on foot to reach the border with Jordan. I was carrying my bag, but my father noticed that I was struggling. He asked me if I needed help, but when he picked it up he said, “It’s too heavy. What did you bring with you?”

“My books!” I replied.

My father was shocked; he told me I was crazy. But I said, “If I can’t find a school in the camp, I’ll study by these books.”

When we arrived at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, I was shocked. It was difficult to start a new life from nothing, a life completely different from the one I had come from. We had no electricity. We slept, ate, studied and welcomed guests in the tent where we lived.

But my only concern was my education. I asked people if there was a school, and the moment I found out I could continue my education was the moment I realized I could face these challenges. It was the moment I realized it was not the end of my story, but the beginning.

I thought all children would be glad to be able to go back to school, but that wasn’t the case. Most of the families and children in the camp thought that education wasn’t a priority, because once you’ve become a refugee, it’s not important for you to be an educated person. That saddened me. Because education was very important to me, I had thought it was important to all. I told myself that I needed to make a change, to persuade my society to believe in education. If no one thinks that they can make a difference, then no one will.

When I started, I knew that I would face many challenges and that many people wouldn’t hear my voice. But I believed that one voice was strong enough to make a change – and not only a small one. I had nothing but my voice, so I used it to speak with every child, asking every mother and father to go back to school and to consider education a priority. I was going from tent to tent to fight for education.

The Zaatari camp wasn’t my final stop. After living there for more than a year, my family and I moved to Azraq, another camp in Jordan, where I found the same challenges that existed in Zaatari. And after living for three years in Jordan, I had the opportunity to move to Britain.

When I arrived in England, I had to start everything again, and those changes have not been easy. Yet day by day, everything becomes easier. And I haven’t forgotten about the people who are still living in the camps in Jordan, those who have no voice. So I’m trying to raise my voice from Britain - to share my story and let people hear the voices of children all over the world.

I am 19 years old now. Since April, I’ve traveled with UNICEF to many places, but one trip that meant a lot to me was my recent visit to Jordan, where everything started. I met with wonderful girls who told me they want to go back to Syria to rebuild. Sarah, who is 16 years old, told me she goes to the Makani UNICEF center in Amman. She loves the community, but is sad – she didn’t find a place at a school. Yet she said, “I’ll keep fighting.” Those are strong words. I expect a great future for Syria with children such as her.

Monday was U.N. World Children’s Day. To everyone who will read my story, I ask this: Please, help children in need. Please, raise your voices to help those who cannot speak out. Please, stand for peace and for equality. Education is the greatest weapon to solve these challenges, and it’s the only way to build a global peace.

Muzoon Almehellan is a UNICEF goodwill ambassador.

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