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Press Centre (7/2017)

In Turkey, helping Syrian refugees can mean bringing the classroom into their homes

Donatella Lorch/UNICEF

Şanlıurfa, Turkey – Hatime Erdogmus’ teaching day starts with a knock on a door. In one day, she’ll give as many as five lessons in five impromptu classrooms in five homes. Hatime, 22, doesn’t mind spreading out her books on a tarp laid out on the concrete of a house yard or the chickens than peck at her pen, the pelt of a recently skinned sheep at her feet or the flapping wet laundry hanging from a metal wire above her head.

“We teach Syrian refugee women and children inside their own home,” Hatime explained. “These are refugees that cannot easily leave their home; they are isolated in a different culture and many do not speak Turkish. Their world is limited, especially the world of women and small children.”
Hatime will visit the same five houses every day for three months, teaching in each for one hour and focusing on topics such as early childhood education, reading, writing, home safety and nutrition. This outreach program supported by UNICEF began in October 2016 and is run by the Şanlıurfa ÇATOM, (a Turkish acronym that stands for Multi-Purpose Community Center) and administered by the Southeastern Anatolia Project (the GAP Regional Development Administration) under Turkey’s Ministry of Development. It targets Syrian refugees in four provinces of Southeast Turkey, areas with the highest numbers of refugees, and has so far reached just under 1,100 children and 800 mothers. By the end of 2017, ÇATOM aims to reach 5,100 Syrian children through 100 teachers. Textbooks are in Arabic and Turkish and approved by the Ministry of National Education.
Here in Şanlıurfa, a sprawling city of 1.9 million, the outreach workers focus on one specific neighborhood where Syrian refugees make up more than 50 percent of the population. The teams first go door to door to explain the program. Making it home-based allows the teachers to also do home monitoring and identify any problems families may face in accessing schooling, medical care or other public services.
Hatime’s first stop that day was a two- floor, four-room flat that housed three families and a total of 18 people. Of these, 7 were children. The class was outdoors on a carpet in a concrete yard. The day’s subject was safety at home. Fatma, 30, the mother of 2 girls and a boy, leaned in to talk with Hatime as her children colored pictures.

“I have learned so much, I want to extend it another 13 weeks,” Fatma said. “My children know not to play with sharp objects like knives and not to touch electricity outlets. They now know how to use scissors and hold pens. They are learning to read.”
Fatma and her family fled the war in Aleppo in 2013. Her husband is blind and hasn’t been able to find work. Her world is limited to visiting other relatives in Şanlıurfa and going to buy food in the market. When Hatime walked in, the women were all smiles, greeting her with hugs and kisses. The class is a high point even for the 56-year-old grandmother who hovers behind her daughters-in-law as they focus intently on the day’s lesson and the class often continues past the scheduled hour. Fatma, who has a high school education, is thirsty for words and asks Hatime to teach her numbers, colors and kitchen items in Turkish.  She is intrigued by the advice on nutrition and proud of how she has changed her children’s diets.
“I have learned about the food pyramid,” Fatma declared. “I now know the most important foods for my children. They need to drink milk and Hatime taught me how to hide meat in the vegetables so my kids eat it.”
Hatime’s lessons may be finite but what they leave behind is not. In a refugee’s world, every day is a struggle for food and jobs and basic existence. That one hour a week also empowers. It teaches these women resilience. It arms them with hope. It paves a way forward for their children.
Partnership for Children
UNICEF supports the Şanlıurfa ÇATOM early childhood education activities thanks to generous funding from the Government of Germany (KFW).
UNICEF Turkey Country Office, Yukarı Dikmen Mah. Alexsander Dubçek Cd. 7/106, 06450 Çankaya/Ankara. Telephone: +90 312 454 1000 Fax: +90 312 496 1461 E-mail: ankara@unicef.org