In a north Amman neighborhood, 44-year-old Haytham al-Wazir walks the hallways of the a-Tabyan Educational Center alongside his young students.
The a-Tabyan school opened last year, and now counts 80 young refugee and orphan children in the kindergarten through grade 5 classes. Al-Wazir founded the school with the blessing of the Jordanian government as a way to introduce young Syrians who have had no education into the world of school, at a pace designed for their needs.
“I’m thankful to God,” he says. “The kids have become attached to the place.”
A native of Douma city in the east Damascus suburbs, al-Wazir studied both religion and the Arabic language at Damascus University before becoming a teacher in his home country. When violence reached his hometown in 2013, he fled with his family to Jordan.
Al-Wazir settled in Sweileh, a low-income industrial neighborhood in the Jordanian capital’s north. For three years, al-Wazir volunteered for several different charities and initiatives working with refugees.
Through his work aiding Syrian families, al-Wazir noticed something that alarmed him: Despite living Jordan for years, many Syrians never enroll their children in school.
Some families found the registration process daunting. The Jordanian government is notorious for requiring stacks of paperwork for the simplest of tasks, paperwork most families did not think to pack as they fled war for what they thought would be a temporary time.
Free time at the a-Tabyan school in Amman. Photo courtesy of the a-Tabyan Center.
Syrian children who have dropped out of school “number in the thousands,” al-Wazir tells Syria Direct’s Alaa Nassar, who visited the school earlier this week.
“It’s a frightening number,” he says.
Today, al-Wazir is working to get Syrian children back in school. With support from Jordanian charities and members of his family, al-Wazir drew up a list of students in his neighborhood whose education had been interrupted by the war.
Children at a-Tabyan take remedial courses in Arabic, English and math. Al-Wazir’s primary goal is to get children ready for regular courses at government schools, he tells Syria Direct.
“I want to educate and shape this upcoming generation,” he says.
“An ignorant nation has no future for its children.”
Q: Why are so many Syrians dropping out of school?
Personally, I’ve discovered that many families are unaware of the options available to their students, or simply haven’t followed up with their children’s education in Jordan.
How many of them believed that this war would be short? That they’d eventually return to their schools in Syria?
Years have gone by, and we’re still waiting.
Some think that without official papers they can’t register their children in schools. However, there are new initiatives by the Syrian government and UNICEF to get these children in school.
Child labor also makes things worse. How many children, because of poverty, have left schools and gone into the work force? This is, unfortunately, a major issue.
Q: How did you raise the funds for the school?
I won’t hide anything from you—getting support these days is a toilsome task. Funding has gone down its lowest levels.
Getting funding hangs over us like a ghost. Its absence threatens the existence of great projects like this.
There isn’t one single funder. It’s largely made possible by volunteers and purely humanitarian efforts. The legal work was done by the al-Kitab w-Sunnah organization, which turned the a-Tabyan center into one of its own projects.
Family and friends also helped me with this initiative. I was contacting them and trying to show them the importance of an education project like this.
We’ve faced a new issue, it’s that these students are behind in their studies compared to their peers. It has forced the government create special, remedial curricula for them.
Q: What does it take to accept students? Do you request official paperwork from them? Are there other activities that the center offers other than educational ones?
We accept Syrian students between kindergarten and grade 5 who have fallen behind in their studies due to the war. We try to give students a safe atmosphere, and provide psychological and emotional support so they can learn.
We take care of the growth and educational sides of things with a curriculum specially designed for Syrians that was created by the educational committee of al-Kitab w-Sunnah.
The only official paperwork request is a copy of their UNHCR information, just to confirm basic information about the students and communicate with their families. We even have some Yemeni students, and they learn alongside their Syrian peers.
The refugee student needs to focus on their emotional health before their studies.
I’ve also given special focus to kindergarten students. They don’t have a government school to go to, nor can their parents put them in a private kindergarten since it is prohibitively expensive.
Our project works to supports kindergarten-age students and provide them with a full curriculum and a specialized teacher to create very positive results, with thanks to God.
We also hold workshops about family counseling. The Noor al-Hussein foundation has very kindly participated in anti-domestic violence activities with the families of the students.
Q: After a student ends his time with a-Tabyan, do you transfer them to a specific government school? Or does the government decide?
In regards to placing the student in a government school, the government decides everything.
Q: Are the educational certificates accepted in Jordanian schools?
We are a volunteer initiative providing a humanitarian service. We help students to get through the basic levels and catch up with their peers in government schools. We don’t offer any actual certifications for our courses.
Q: Are all of the teachers Syrian women? How many students do you have now?
At first, we accepted only orphans and then refugees in general. We now have 80.
I hope to actually expand the center, since it’s very small and can only hold about 100 students. Most of them are Syrians, and there are a few Yemeni and Jordanian students who live nearby.
There are three Syrian women working as teachers. All are university graduates with experience and certification.
Q: In your opinion, how much can the school change the lives and futures of students who might otherwise have spent the rest of their lives illiterate?
Of course, these initiatives need support in order to complete their mission of raising a new generation. Backwardness and ignorance create criminals and beggars [in society.]
Knowledge and education are the basics of social security, and social cohesion.
We are in constant contact with students’ families by the way of parent-teacher conferences. Communication is very important when it comes to academic success.
Q: Which student’s story has had the greatest impact on you?
The student who affected me the most was a fatherless child named Muhammad. He was eight when his mother brought him to the center to discuss a personal matter.
He started looking around at all the students playing, learning and enjoying themselves. It was obvious this made him sad.
I asked his mother why he looked this way. She told me that he had been out of school for some time and could neither read nor write.
It’s painful. When I think back to the way his eyes looked as he saw the students around him learning—it makes me want to cry.
I set things up myself. I registered him and got him a place inside the center.
Later, when I saw him wearing a uniform and carrying his bookbag with his cute smile I can’t express how happy I was.
Things like this, from a religious perspective, are equal to a lot of prayer, fasting and reading the Quran.