Academic Support for Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

January 3, 2011 ANERA
Iraqi refugee kids get remedial education in ANERA after school program. Iraqi refugee kids get remedial education in ANERA after school program.

At the Family Guidance and Awareness Center in Zarqa, 17-year-old Anmar Ali is a quiet young man with haunting memories. He lost his closest cousin during the Iraq war of 2003. He can’t shake the vision of armed soldiers barging into their home and terrorizing the family. He remembers the army jeep shooting at a driver in a car right in front of him and his father. A strong feeling of horror never leaves him.

“My parents fled Iraq three years ago, believing it was temporary and that we would be able to return soon. I didn’t like Jordan at all and I kept waiting to go back,” explains Anmar. “Everything was new to me here. I had no friends, no acquaintances and no family. I didn’t go out much.”

The after-school program has provided academic and psychological support for 1,000 Iraqi refugee youngsters.

But when Anmar started school in Zarqa, he gradually made friends and felt better, both socially and academically. He credits his participation in the Academic Support for Iraqi Adolescent Students at the Family Guidance and Awareness Center for helping him integrate into Jordanian society.

ANERA implemented the one-year program in March, 2010 in three areas of Jordan in partnership with local community-based organizations. The program, with funding from the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BPRM), provides academic and psychological support for 600 students aged 13 to 18 from lower-income families; 60% are of Iraqi nationality. This is the second phase of ANERA’s education support program, which was launched in 2007, with BPRM funding, and has already benefitted more than 1,000 youngsters.

Through the program, students like Anmar attend after-school classes in Arabic, English, math, computer skills and physics, in addition to sports and recreational activities. Each registered student also gets a daily nutritious snack and an allowance to cover transportation, which most parents could not afford.

As refugees, Iraqis living in Jordan are not allowed to work and must rely on UNRWA and charities for food and other expenses. Many families with students in ANERA’s education program live in poverty, which forces children to drop out of school or miss months at a time while they work in unregistered jobs to help support their families.

“We know how harsh the conditions are for these children and how they often come to school to learn on an empty stomach. So every day we offer them nutritious sandwiches, fruit and juice that we prepare in our center’s kitchen,” explains Nadia Bushnaq, who heads the Family Guidance Center in Zarqa. “We also take the students to restaurants and on excursions as well as celebrating their birthdays with cake to encourage and motivate them. When they see that their grades improve, that motivates them to learn more too. The program has had a tremendous effect on them and will affect their future.”

The center’s Program Manager Omar Al-Khalafat explains that the center works with the child’s whole environment by encouraging both the parents and the children to visit the center and benefit from their services. “We can help them solve family issues through dialogue, which is fundamental in any family relationship. We instill in them discipline, good moral values, and we give them the space and time to interact in positive ways.”

Family Development Association – Qusour

With 200 students enrolled in the after-school courses, the Family Development Association  has its hands full ensuring that classes run smoothly and monitoring the students’ psychological and social development. The association aims at alleviating poverty and unemployment. It also aspires to become a pioneer in organizational voluntary social work that addresses the need for social and economic empowerment for underprivileged Jordanian families, especially women and children.

Students enrolled in ANERA’s after-school program also benefit from social worker Zein Mattour’s counseling. She conducts periodic one-on-one counseling sessions as well as group awareness sessions about dropping out and skipping school and improving time management. “The benefits for Iraqi students are clearly evident in many cases where we see their behavior has remarkably improved.”

Maher and Mohammad are striking examples of the essential link between social guidance and education. The two youngsters have been living in Jordan less than four years and showed an inability to integrate and socialize. They were not interested in school at all.

With help from teachers and social workers participating in the academic support program, Maher and Mohammad soon realized a personal sense of worth. Zein explains, “They took a photography course here and showed a great talent and love for it. So we encouraged them to pursue it.” Now, she says, the two teens are assigned as ‘official’ photographers of the association.

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