Syrian Civil War: Nine Young Refugees Reflect On Five Years Of Bloody Conflict

There are around half a million Syrian children living in Lebanon.

Five years after war broke out in Syria, the lives of the country's children are still on hold.

Many have had to drop out of school, because there simply are no classes to attend. Others are attending part time, learning in languages foreign to them.

One charity has been campaigning for funding to get one million Syrian refugee children into schools across Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. Last year, Theirworld managed to secure 220,000 spaces in Lebanese schools for these displaced youths, with the help of education charity Sonbola.

There are just under half a million Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon, according to UNHCR figures, meaning thousands are being denied an education.

Despite being faced with bleak prospects, here are nine children, who live in informal settlements across the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, who have spoken out about their hopes for the future.

Ahmad Dashtar, 14
Tabitha Ross
Ahmad wants to be a footballer when he grows up. He's very smart - he runs homework clubs in his camp, despite having been out of school for two years.The whole time he nagged his mother about when he could go back.

"I’m from the Aleppo countryside. The most beautiful thing that I miss there is my village, because I used to live there and my friends were there.

"I was raised there and went to school there. I loved the teachers, I loved learning English. I’ve been here for four years. For the first two years in Lebanon I was out of school. I wasn’t very happy because I missed school. I felt happy when I went back because I would be learning again. Now I go to a Lebanese public school half an hour away. It’s good. All of the teachers are good and they teach us well.

"We play football in the camp. I want to be a footballer when I grow up. I don’t think I can help Syria, not on the political level.

"Education is important because when I get older then I can help my country in other ways. For homework, all the children in the camp who go to school come to me for help. We have a kind of homework club. When we get back from school they all come to my tent and we spread out blankets and do our exercises together.

"In summer I work in the fields. It’s hot and hard. Picking potatoes is the worst, carrying a bag of them is so heavy. But it helps the family so it’s good.

"I work in the mornings and go to school and study in the afternoons. But sometimes I get back from the fields late and miss the bus."
Heba Bilal Assad, 12
Tabitha Ross
Heba's name means "gift". She has three younger brothers, and all of them, including Heba, are in school.

Next year, some of her classes will be taught in English, a language which Heba doesn't know yet. It's an issue facing many Syrian students in Lebanon - the curriculum is taught in English or French, unlike in Syria, where it's taught in Arabic.

"What I miss most about Daraa [Heba's home town] is my school and seeing my whole family every day.

"I’ve been here for two years. I was two months out of school and then my family found a school with places and I registered.

"I was only out of school two months not more because my parents really care a lot about education.

"They value education because I am always telling them I love education and that I want to study. I love it because I want to be a doctor some day and to achieve this I have to study. I want to be a doctor because I want to heal children.

"I don’t know where I see myself in five years, but I would like to be in Syria.

"I’d like to help my country in the future firstly by helping children, and also my friends and I, we will work hand in hand to build a better country.

"The situation was good until the war started. Then lots of things changed. People had to move because their houses were destroyed, even trees were uprooted. I saw some of these things, and then we came here. Yes sometimes I felt afraid. My brothers and I were afraid of the bombing.

"I’ve been coming to the Sonbola centre for two months and studying extra English and computer studies and maths, and we draw and paint.

"I like English best and it helps me at school. The same with maths. I wasn’t good at maths, but classes here have helped me improve at school. Half the class failed maths at school but we all passed English.

"I’ve got a problem coming up though because from next year, 7th grade, the science teacher refuses to teach in Arabic only English. I like English but it’s new to me and I’m not that good yet.

"It wasn’t nice being out of school. You can’t stay at home without getting bored and cross. It felt good to go back. Since I went back I have never missed a day of school. We get a 15 minute break. I play with my friends, eat a snack.

"School helps to think about the good things and forget the bad."
Ayman and Batoul Okla, 12 and 10
Tabitha Ross
Ayman (left) and Batoul are brother and sister. They missed nearly four years of school after their town of Aleppo was caught in conflict and it wasn't safe to attend.

Ayman wants to be a doctor, as he's not scared of blood; Batoul wants to become a paediatrician, so she can help sick children.

Ayman: "We come from a village in the middle of the countryside. I loved the nature there. Our house was better than a tent. It was bigger and more comfortable.

"There we knew our neighbours and the whole village. Yes here I know everyone in the camp, but there I also knew everyone in all the neighbouring village.

"I liked Arabic. And playing football at break times. In our school here it’s not possible to play football.

"We’ve been here a year and a half. We left because of the bombing. I saw the bombs falling from the planes and I was afraid. The planes dropped a bomb on the house next to the school and destroyed it. We weren’t at school at the time, the school had closed. I was out with the goats. I saw the plane coming and the bombs falling and I hid behind a pillar.

"There was another boy with me and he was hit by some of the shrapnel. Then the plane started circling, we were scared it would drop more bombs.

"I had got up to grade three in Syria when the school closed. We were out [of school] for nearly four years. We didn’t the chance to go back until we came here to Lebanon and found places. We’ve been back about a year. I love school. When I first went back I felt that I didn’t remember anything of what I had learned before. But gradually I remembered and now I am learning lots more.

"I want to be a doctor when I grow up. I’m not afraid of blood so I think I will be a surgeon. I want to be a doctor so I can treat people who are hurt, and so that I can earn money which I can use to help others too. I wanted to be a doctor since I was a little child.

"I’ll be able to help people if they get hurt by falling bombs. If there is no war anymore when I’m grown up I’ll be able to help anyone. There aren’t enough doctors in Syrian anymore so it is needed.

"I want to go back to Syria when it is safe."

Batoul: "I loved our house. Our school in Aleppo was big. I liked studying maths in school there.

"I was in grade one when the school shut. I was so happy to go back to school [in Lebanon]. I love that I can learn. I've got friends and nice teachers.

"I am going to be a doctor too but I want to help sick children."
Khalil Al Anzi, 13
Tabitha Ross
Khalil, who is from Idlib in the north of Syria, has been out of school since the conflict started. His village was bombed early on in the crisis, and his family fled.

He's forgotten all his English, a language he used to love.

"I've been in Lebanon for two and a half years. I reached grade five in Syria but when I was nine the crisis started and I couldn't go home anymore. It's five years since I've been to school.

"I had to leave school in Syria because our village was bombed and we had to run away. We left Idlib and went to near Hama, to my grandparents’ house. But there we couldn’t find a school for me to go to, many were closed because of the war.

"And then when we came to Lebanon, there were no school places.

"When I went to school, I liked English. But I’ve forgotten it all now. But it wasn’t my favourite subject. I didn’t have a favourite subject, I liked everything. The teachers were good. My favourite teacher was called Ali, he taught English and Arabic. He taught us well and he never hit us.

"I used to have fun with my friends there, we played football at break times. If there had been no war, I would be in school today. I’d be in grade nine now.

"But as it is I’m here. I help my mum at home with chores and with the kids. In the summer I work with my older sister, we pick potatoes, vegetables in the fields for the farmers. It’s good to have work. Since I’m not going to school, at least I can work and help the family.

"I have lots of friends in the camp, and my cousins are here. We play all sorts of things, like marbles or football. The tent isn’t cold, not even at night. We light the stove and it keeps us warm. We all sleep in here together, mum and dad and me and my five brothers and sisters.

"I can remember how to read and write. I teach my little brothers and sisters their letters sometimes, if we have a notebook and pen.

"I want to open a computer shop in Syria when I grow up. I started learning to use a computer at Sonbola a month ago, and I’m loving it. So I want to do this when I’m older."
Waed Al Haqbami, 10
Tabitha Ross
Waed's name means "promise". She lives in the same camp as her cousins Khalil and Shahed.

She's the eldest of five, but only completed grade one in Syria before she had to leave. Waed wants to go back to school so she can start learning again.

"None of the children in my camp are at school. When I was in school what I loved most was just that I was learning. I only completed grade one. My teacher was very nice, I loved her.

"I’m going to Sonbola twice a week now. We’re learning some letters, we go on the computers. But I want to go more and go to proper school too so I can learn properly.

"There’s five of us in my family, three boys and two girls. My dad wants all of us to go to school.

"I want to be a teacher when I grow up so that I can teach children."
Israa Rajaa, 14
Tabitha Ross
Israa wants to be a police officer, so she can help people live safe and stable lives. When she lived in Syria, Israa had to help identify a young man who had been wounded by a bomb. He was so injured he was unrecognisable. Israa's mother said her daughter got home from the traumatic incident and collapsed.

"I’ve been in Lebanon four years. We had to come here because of the war in Syria.

"At school I always loved music and drawing and art. When we came here I was out of school for a year. If you can’t go to school and get an education you can’t build a future life.

"Then I got a place. I was so happy to go back because it was possible for me to continue my education. And if I don’t pursue my education then I won’t have opportunities for a good future.

"I love school here. Mostly the teachers are good but some of them do not care if we learn or not. And some teachers do not want to teach Syrians.

"School helps to focus on the present and not on the past. At school I have friends to talk and laugh and play with. And learning and studying is important because you need education to build for the future. And it’s a change of scene, it’s more fun than staying at home all the time.

"I’m doing a reading competition that Sonbola told us about. You have to read and write a summary of 50 books over the school year, but I have already read them in three months. I was reading a book about every two days. I loved a lot of them. One of the ones I loved best was ‘The Imprisoned Dolphin’ which is about a dolphin being kept in a small pool in captivity.

"In five years if the war is over I want to be back in Syria. Otherwise, can I go on a world tour?!"
Salam Dlawaty, 12
Tabitha Ross
Salam's family, who hail from Aleppo, got the chance to return to Syria, but chose to stay in Lebanon as there would be no education for their children in their home country.

Salam's name means "peace", and she wants to be a vet because she loves animals.

"Our home in Syria was demolished and taken by fighters, so we had nowhere to go. That’s why we came here four years ago. It feels like home now. I know the streets and my way around.

"I was out of school for one year when we first came to Lebanon. We lived with my brother and there were no schools near there so I had no chance to go to school. In fact there was a school, and we started there, but then they said they weren’t taking Syrians so we had to stop.

"When I was out of school I missed my friends and was always remembering how I used to answer the teacher and how it felt when I got a question right.

"When I went back I felt like I was resuming my old life.

"I want to be a vet because I love animals. I love cats the best. I had a cat who had a broken leg and I healed her myself. I put a bandage on it and something to stop infection and gave her milk and yoghurt.

"My mum was always telling me to get rid of her but I couldn’t because I loved her.

"Where do I want to be five years from now? It depends. It’s up to my mum. If the war is over, we might go back. But she wants us to finish our education so if it looks like we can do that here but not there, we won’t go back that quickly."
Iman Al Ali, 11
Tabitha Ross
Iman had to drop out of school to take care of her five younger siblings, while her parents work in the fields.

She spends her days cleaning, collecting water and keeping her siblings out of trouble.

My jobs are to clean the floor, to put away the beds, and to take care of my five little brothers and sisters while my parents are at work. I let them play but I don’t play with them. If I don’t have any chores to do I watch them, but I’m usually busy getting water, doing the washing, watering the plants, and my other jobs.

"I loved it school in Syria. I loved learning. I loved my friends. English was my favourite subject. I don’t know a lot, but I love to learn.

"When we left Syria, it was the summer holidays. On the last day they gave me a certificate to say I passed grade four. I said goodbye to my friends and teachers, but I thought it would be just for the summer and I’d see them in the autumn. They had said before that the school would be closing because of the war, but on the last day they told us that they would open it again after the holidays after all. I was so happy because I thought I would see my friends and teachers again.

"Then there was a lot of bombing. The sound that the aeroplanes made when they were flying round our house, it really scared me. Then we left and came to Lebanon. Here there aren’t any, but even if we hear a normal aeroplane we get scared.

"I’m really good at Arabic and at maths. Sometimes when we were doing Arabic dictation my friends thought I was cheating because I was so good. But I never cheat.

"I want to be a teacher when I grow up, because I want to teach children. Just as I want to learn, I know that when I grow up, there will be children who want to learn too."