Four years old with a shy smile, Sarah took me by the hand and led me inside her home -- a tiny, windowless shack constructed on another family's property in the overcrowded Syrian-Turkish border town of Reyhanli. As Syrian refugees, Sarah and her family are struggling to survive on basics provided by humanitarian aid organizations. The home she once had was leveled in a bombing in Syria, and the school she would have attended doesn't exist anymore.
It's hard to imagine what Sarah has endured over the past three years -- most of her young life, in fact. In the midst of a conflict that has consumed years of their lives, Syrian children continue to suffer immeasurably -- targeted by snipers, enduring hunger and displacement from their homes, a lack of health care, and the unsanitary conditions of massive refugee camps stretching out for miles within Syria and along its borders.
School, for many young Syrian children, is an unrealized dream. For others, it's a memory of the past. Imagine the trauma of an active conflict, combined with the absence of any form of positive mental stimulation.
Eighty percent of our brain is developed in the first five years of life, and the pace and complexity of this development is never ever repeated again. We have one chance to get it right. Yet there is so much that can threaten this process -- all around the world young children are growing up in contexts of poverty, conflict, and food insecurity.
In Syria, all of these realities converge to create one of the worst scenarios imaginable for child development. And yet -- we have one chance to get it right. How can we make a difference?
At this moment there is one very practical step that each of us can take to help improve the lives and futures of Syria's refugee children: give the gift of education.
A Powerful New Project
I'm excited to report that an innovative experiment is currently underway in Lebanon to provide access to education for more than 400,000 Syrian refugee children living there. By utilizing timeshares in 1,500 schools across Lebanon in areas where Syrian refugees currently reside, the architects of the plan intend to reach hundreds of thousands of children who have had no access to education as a result of the conflict.
The project has already been successfully implemented in a small village in northeast Lebanon. Akroum's local village school now makes their building available to Syrian refugee children and teachers for several half-days each week.
UNICEF and UNHCR are working together with the Lebanese government to expand the timeshare project throughout the country, with organizations like Save the Children and World Vision continuing to provide crucial educational opportunities and play places for refugee children from Syria.
Aware that Lebanese schools provide education in French and English, while Syrian children are often accustomed to lessons in Arabic, a small Scottish charity called Edinburgh Direct Aid is delivering textbooks in Arabic to the schools, in addition to helping to fund timeshares.
Help support powerful initiatives like the timeshare project to provide education and humanitarian aid for Syrian refugee children now. Get started by contacting any of the organizations listed below. The Syrian conflict is increasingly complicated, but helping Syrian children doesn't have to be. Many great educational initiatives are underway, and these great organizations deserve our support.
Organizations Helping Syrian Children
Please note that this is not a comprehensive list. It is simply a starting point for involvement.
Save the Children
United Muslim Relief
Catholic Relief Services
Heart for Lebanon
Syrian American Medical Society
Syrian Sunrise Foundation