This blog by an 18-year-old Syrian refugee boy living in a collective shelter in Lebanon is part of a series of blogs written by adolescents involved in the Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE) participatory research groups in the Middle East-North Africa region. Young people aged 15-19 from diverse nationality and geographic backgrounds have been engaging in participatory research activities, including participatory photography, peer-to-peer research and diary writing since early 2019. On the International Day of Education, this blog focuses on adolescent voices and young people’s experiences in forging spaces to share their perspectives and priorities for change.
Ali Hamad’s* story as told to Sally Youssef
Ali is an 18-year-old Syrian boy from Aleppo. He was displaced by the Syrian war with his family when he 10-years-old. In Lebanon, Ali only attended school for one year before dropping out because he faced many difficulties. From challenges with the Lebanese curriculum, learning English which is the language of instruction, to facing discrimination and violence at school. Ali also had to sacrifice his education to work and support his family who live in dire conditions in a collective shelter in the city of Baalbek, Lebanon. Ali values education and has not given up on learning. He took some basic English courses with local organisations in the Baalbek region and tries to learn by himself in his free time. Through his participation with GAGE, Ali has the chance to learn more skills that help substitute his lost educational opportunities.
I was still very young when the war broke out in Syria and we left our rural village to come to Lebanon. Due to the war, I lost my education. Instead of going to school, I started working to help my family. When I was a child, I dreamed of becoming a professional football player but the war and displacement stole this dream from me. Now I only dream of returning to my homeland after the war ends and becoming a government employee, to help rebuild my country and provide services to my people. Especially education.
There was nothing important in my life in Lebanon until I joined the Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE) programme. The programme gave me a chance to talk about my experiences and express myself, an opportunity that I had never had before. It was a chance for me to learn many skills, including conducting interviews and photography. I have received certificates for the skills I learn, which makes me happy because I feel that I am slightly compensating for the loss of my education. Perhaps these skills and certificates will help me find a decent job in the future. It may be difficult for me to return to school, but I will not lose the hope of learning. Through GAGE, I realised that learning comes in different forms. I learned how to express myself using digital technology through photos and videos. I also learnt basic skills I need in life, such as communicating different points of views and conducting a constructive dialogue.
Recently, because of the spread of corona virus, all my daily and social activities were halted. I could no longer work or meet my friends and play football with them. This was very difficult as I am not used to staying at home, especially since my family is large and the house is small. I was feeling depressed most of the time. During lockdown, GAGE started conducting remote sessions via WhatsApp and Zoom which helped me overcome depression. By sharing our thoughts about what works to overcome the difficulties of lockdown, I learnt that I should focus on activities that benefit me such as learning a new language. I decided to learn English using an online application and was able to learn a lot of words during this period. In addition, we had discussion sessions with Syrian boys living in Jordan and I learnt a lot from them about the life of Syrians there. We shared some of our experiences on how Syrians live in the two countries, as well as our experiences during the lockdown. It was the first time I had spoken to Syrians living in Jordan and it helped me feel part of a community that is working together to change the lives of Syrian youth for the better.
There are not many opportunities available to young Syrian refugees in Lebanon, especially opportunities to be heard or to have an effective role in the community and country. I encourage other Syrian refugee youth who have lost educational opportunities to invest their time in trying to learn by themselves, and to participate in community programmes to help benefit their society and personal development.
* Name is a pseudonym chosen by the blog author