This year, the anniversary of the first fighting in the Syria conflict is different. It seems that we now are accustomed to understanding Syria as a place of war. It feels more permanent, and much more complicated. In the past twelve months, the opposing forces have fractured to such a degree that it is rare to meet someone who knows who is fighting who. And even rarer to find an opinion on how the fighting might be brought to a close.
In Zaatari refugee camp War Child works with children for whom the war is firmly front of mind. I met a young girl in our Child Protection Centre who told us how she and her mother had to pick up the body parts of her sister, after their street was hit by artillery fire. It's an image that dominates her conscious thoughts and explains why she is so keen to attend the counselling sessions which are helping her to reconcile this trauma and move beyond it.
Syrian children have been hit hard by this conflict, thousands have died or been injured, thousands more have been sucked into the conflict, as fighters or as victims of sexual violence. Millions have been forced to leave their shattered homes and flee for their lives. Most refugee families planned on being away for a few weeks. Our first projects in Jordan counselled children whose parents said that they would soon be going home. There's not much talk of that now in Zaatari camp or in the overcrowded apartment blocks outside where I've seen up to 30 people sleeping in a one three bedroom flat. And whilst children can happily skip school for a few days, thousands of Syrian children have now missed three years of education. In Zaatari camp less than half the children are going to the schools set up for them. And those who do attend find themselves crammed into classes of 90 children, with only one teacher and an assistant to deal with them all. Not a great place to learn to read and write. There is simply not enough money going into the task of educating this generation of Syrian children. A problem which gets more urgent by the day.
Children feel this lack of learning acutely. In Zaatari education is the first thing most children mention when I ask what they would like to see in the camp. 'Unless I can learn I will not have a future' one boy told me. And 'if I don't have any future I don't really have a life'. He helped me to understand the difference education makes. A child in school is a child who knows that their capacities are increasing every day, and that they are progressing. No school means no progression, no hope and no real sense that their future will be any better than what they see around them now. So much for the impact on the child. For the wider world, no education for Syrian refugees means a very uncertain future for the region. Surrounded by people keen to enrol them in one fight or another, uneducated children can be much more vulnerable to recruitment and indoctrination. Researchers in Sierra Leone found that young men with no education where nine times more likely to join a rebel fighting group than those who had gone as far as secondary school. There is a lesson in this research which the humanitarian responders seem to be missing. Whilst War Child works desperately hard to raise the money we need to keep our education work going in Jordan, the United Nations have received zero % of the money they have appealed for to pay for education of Syrian children. Of all the statisitics I might give you to explain the human tragedy caused by the Syrian conflict, this is the most eloquent, and the most disturbing.
Whilst the adults continue to fight in their country, Syria's children deserve a future. We cannot accept that illiteracy and insecurity will dominate their lives. We have to struggle to get them the resources they need to learn enough to navigate an uncertain future. They are the people who will build the peace in their country, and they need to be prepared for a challenge which this generation of adults have distinctly failed.
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