Last, week, dozens of people – proud parents, kids and instructors -turned up to NRC’s Youth Centre open day to recognize Syrian refugee youth who will soon graduate from NRC’s vocational training programmes. It was a day filled with songs, drama and an opportunity to strengthen community relations in a positive setting. Many community members participated in the different games and activities. A traditional Syrian song, sung by a young refugee woman, prompted the audience – kids, mothers, grandmothers – to join in, dancing and clapping along with the poignant lyrics and the infectious rhythm.
The graduates organised an exhibition showcasing the skills and competencies they learned throughout their three-month course. It was clear walking through the exhibition that youth felt proud of what they had learned and achieved. This was the first time they could show of their skills to the community and it was very clear that the guests were all very impressed with what they saw.
It was inspiring to see these young refugees graduate with new skills and confidence, after all the loss that they have gone through. In Zaatari camp – often referred to as the ‘children’s camp’ because of the large number of child refugees living there – it is becoming more and more evident that Syrian children and youth are in danger of becoming a ‘lost generation’, one without education, skills, or hope for the future.
So, how on earth can you prevent an entire generation from becoming “lost”? We are talking about millions of children who have lost their homes, their family members and everything stable and familiar in their lives. How do you solve a problem so big? It starts with an understanding that the generation at risk is not a faceless mass, but individual children. And each one of them can be helped.
Helping and supporting one young person at a time is the essence of NRC’s youth programs in Zaatari Camp. Each one can choose to train as a welder, barber, beauty therapist, or to learn embroidery and art. Each course is combined with literacy, numeracy, civic engagement and other critical skills. Most of the students who attend the courses have faced disruption in their education due to the conflict and have not been able to access schools for a long period of time Attending the youth programs gives them an opportunity to make up for gaps in education and work experience.
When youth participate in the course they are given hands-on training and the equipment needed to pursue their new skill. For example the welding students, upon finishing the course, are given a welding kit (with needed materials and tools) which can help them get jobs in the camp. They also develop a sense of belonging and a peer network, which can be difficult in the isolating setting of a refugee camp.
One of the vocational training instructors, who himself is a Syrian refugee told me that the most important aspect of his job is helping refugee youth to become active members of the camp community and to give them hope that one day they can will help rebuild Syria.
NRC’s youth programs are just one important way to fight the tidal wave of the lost generation that threatens to sweep across Syria’s displaced young population. However, throughout the region, there is an immediate need for more programmes and initiatives aimed at addressing the needs and encouraging the potential of young refugees. The “lost generation” is not inevitable, but we must all begin to approach education and youth programming as the emergency issue that it is.