#ImagineaSchool: Documenting Syrian children’s struggle for education

Some students want better grades. Others want to make the basketball team. Over 187,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon just imagine attending school.

When it comes to powerful international development campaigns, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) continues to lead by example. #ImagineaSchool is a multimedia campaign launched by UNICEF Lebanon, giving a rare insight into the lives of Syrian refugee children and their struggle for education. Through the campaign, we are invited to hear  and share their stories, as well as support their cause.

According to UNICEF, around half of Syrian school-aged children – over 187,000 – are out of school in Lebanon, which hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world. Instead of getting an education, thousands of Syrian children, some as young as six years old, are working in agriculture, factories, construction and on the streets. #ImagineaSchool provides an intimate look into the lives of these and other children.

What makes this campaign so powerful is its interactive documentary, which immerses viewers into the children’s daily struggles for education. The documentary invites viewers to choose from a selection of challenges that they themselves faced in school. Once these challenges are selected, text and video testimonials tell the story of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon who have faced similar challenges, albeit in a much worse context. Some of them are no longer in school and others continue to struggle to stay in school.

Through powerful before and after photos, we see that that all five of the classes presented in the documentary have lost a significant amount of students. We hear about why some children don’t go to school – “I want to work to help my family. I wish I could study in the afternoon,” says one child – and what children that are in school struggle through everyday. “Here, we have a problem with the bus. It’s small so sometimes we fall out of the window,” says one student. “They always hit us at school, so what do I get out of going here?” says another.

But despite these struggles, hope remains.

“I want to learn and read more. I want to become a great journalist and report the news,” says a young boy. And in another profile, a young girl underscores the power of her education: “If something happened tomorrow in Syria, my knowledge would be a weapon.”

#MeWeSyria: Youth-led storytelling for social change

The innovative programme, #MeWeSyria, empowers young Syrian refugees to share their narratives, voices and vision for change through storytelling and communications.

As highlighted in an article on the UNHCR Innovation website, the programme integrates therapeutic, artistic, and communications frameworks to develop self-awareness, promote recovery and wellbeing, and restore some control and hope in a world of chaos. Through collaborative storytelling exercises, these young people practice working in creative teams, leadership, and creative problem-solving skills, while honing their role as agents of change.

For example, youth in refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey are given video cameras to share their stories in creative ways. In the video below, young people film conversations between their future and present selves.

#MeWeSyria is so important for two key reasons. Firstly, by enabling young Syrian refugees to take the lead and tell their story through collaborative and creative ways, these young people can focus on hope, innovation and positive change. Furthermore, they help move the narrative on Syria away from extremism, loss, and helplessness towards healing, empathy, and resilience.

#MeWeSyria’s director, Mohsin Mohi Ud Din, powerfully expands on this in an Al Jezeera feature story: “In the process of storytelling we find the ingredients of peace and of change-making and sustainable development. Because without empathy, without pluralism, without self-expression – without these things being taught and exercised by Syria’s youth – then you’re just going to have a camp filled with young children that are going further and further into isolation, and further and further into extremism.

When we look at the world right now, we see a world on fire. We see the failures promoted. We see those that have the microphone and yell the loudest, they have the control of the stage. And if we let this continue to happen – if we let those with evil intentions have the microphone, have control of the video – we’re going to lose and miss out on supporting and valuing young change-makers and the creative enterprise that exists among Syria’s youth.” Watch the video below.

In addition, the programme creates a platform and avenue for the rest of the world to empathize with, hear and share the stories of hope and peace from these young people. In the UNHCR article, the authors – Mohsin Mohi Ud Din and Michael Niconchuk – expand on this point quite eloquently: “Just as we pay special attention to tragedy, we, as their audience, should learn to listen better, nurture and value their hope, and take their successes, and not their sufferings, as a rallying cry to protect, support, and value their change-making lives.”

Indeed, as the authors note, “Youth are not just consumers or containers. They too are the creators and curators.”

Learn more about #MeWeSyria via the following links: