Meet the Syrian children who helped us make a stand on education
Friday 5 February 2016
I’ve been lucky to meet some exceptional people through my job.
Among them are Syrian siblings Dania, Abdullah and Sanna, who fled the horrors of Syria more than two years ago.
When I first met these brave children, it was to speak with their father Mahmoud.
Like too many Syrians, being a father had forced him to make terrifying decisions about how to keep his children safe and how to give them a future.
This family had lost so much to the crisis in Syria.
25 of Mahmoud’s relatives had tragically perished. They were not fighters, just normal people, caught up in the bullets and the blasts.
Deciding to leave
After enduring two years of life in a war zone, it was the destruction of his children’s school, when several of his children’s friends were maimed and killed, that drove Mahmoud to make the difficult decision to leave his home.
“When you see that…you can’t imagine what that is like. That children would suffer like this. That children become part of the ground. Nobody can imagine that. Nobody.”
He’s right. I can’t imagine. I certainly don’t want to as he sits there before me, a man broken by all he has seen.
But as the shells continue to rain down on schools across Syria, we need to imagine. We need to act.
Since fighting began more than 4,000 schools have been attacked. A quarter of all schools across the country have been destroyed, damaged or occupied.
And over 2.8 million Syrian children are currently out of education.
That’s millions of children who are being denied the right to a future.
“Where can they go?” Mahmoud asks me.
“Schools are destroyed in Syria. The children go outside without school, without learning. This is dangerous for this generation.”
Education is vital
It is not acceptable that children are being denied a future. It is unforgivable that their education is under attack.
That’s why, as world leaders came together in London this week to work through the crisis in Syria, five years after the fighting began, we urged them to think about education – and Dania and Abdullah helped us to do that.
Making a stand
The family came to London, where I met them for a second time.
One year on the children were barely recognisable from the quiet and subdued characters I met that dreary day in Leeds.
They were now excitable and talkative with that distinctive Yorkshire accent – and having successfully been granted asylum here they were back in school. It is this, I am sure, that has had such a profound impact on them.
We’d bought the siblings to Parliament Square, where we had replicated a destroyed Syrian classroom.
They sat in the classroom to help us send a message to politicians ahead of their meetings that education is key.
We saw that message realised yesterday when world leaders pledged hundreds of millions to plug the funding gap.
They also made ground-breaking commitments about education, taking us a significant step closer towards preventing a lost generation of Syrian children.
The pledges made yesterday will ensure that children who have been forced to flee Syria get access to education and are able to fulfil their potential.
Looking to the future
While the London Conference has made an important step to secure a future for the millions of children who have fled the country, we must not forget about the millions who remain in Syria itself.
It is vital that their education is protected from attack and that these children are not left behind.
As Dania says:“Every Syrian child should have the chance to go to school.”