THE BLOG

A Mother's Concern for Her Children in Domiz Refugee Camp for Syrians

25/05/2013 23:32 BST | Updated 21/07/2013 10:12 BST

Last week we had the first UNICEF National Committee ("NatCom" in UNICEF speak) visit to Iraq in over 10 years. They came to see Domiz refugee camp and gather materials for their fundraising efforts - professional photos, video footage, interviews.

Refugee children - and some programme staff - who watched the filming thought we were all batty, as takes were shot over and over again. But despite the repetition of lines, and the scripting that went into it, what was said was heartfelt. As UNICEF UK's Chief Operating Officer, Jon Sparkes, a father himself, held a newborn baby, and talked about how awful the idea of not being able to protect and provide for his own children would be, he was nearly in tears.

I know I've written before in this blog that many adults living in the camp are positive - or at least tactful - about camp conditions when they talk about themselves. But when they talk about what their children are missing it can be a different story.

Avin, the woman from last week who runs a beauty salon, told me that after living here for over 12 months, her 9-year-old daughter, Gulnar, still asks her every day when they will go home to Damascus. She says when she hears her daughters, particularly the two eldest (she has four), talking to each other, they talk about what they will do when they go home to Syria. "When we came here, they thought it was just going to be for a short time," Avin said.

She says living in the camp has changed her children - they don't listen to her anymore, they play in the mud, they swear.

"In Syria they had lots of toys, and their grandmother was often at home with them, but here they have nowhere to play. It's a terrible life for them," Avin said. "They are different kids now."

She told me she regrets coming to the camp: "I don't want my daughters to grow up here."

And Gulistan, the mother of four from my first blog, told me that when she and her family first came to Domiz, her and her husband's biggest concern what it would mean for the children's education. "My children are very smart," she told me. Her husband is a teacher, so schooling is highly valued in their family.

As the child of a pair of ambitious teachers myself - parents who saw any grade less than an A as cause for concern - I can only imagine how my mum and dad would have felt if they had had to take me out of school to a refugee camp in a foreign country. I try to picture their mild concern about if I would eventually get into my preferred university course, changing to worry that I wouldn't even be able to finish primary school.

Gulistan's family have become some of the lucky ones though - her eldest son got a scholarship to a selective school in nearby Dohuk, and one of her daughters is top of her class at a camp school.

But I can't help but think that as Domiz has three schools (with a fourth due to open soon) - accommodating about 1,200 students each - for a camp population of about 10,000 school age children, for every child like Gulistan's, there's plenty who are missing out and urgently need to be bought back into structured education.

Which brings me back to the UK NatCom visit and their much-appreciated fundraising efforts ... with more funding making more schools and other services possible, there will be more stories like Gulistan's.