Overcoming the lost school years

After escaping Syria’s devastating civil war, Samer is back in school and receiving Mary’s Meals. 

Little Samer* is just eight years old but he knows exactly what he is wants to do when he grows up.

“I want to sell vegetables like my father,” he says.

Samer and his family are Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, forced to flee their homeland after the outbreak of the civil war in March, 2011.

“We eat lots of vegetables because my husband works in the vegetable shop,” explains Samer’s mother, Shayma. “We have meat sometimes.”

In addition to the vegetables that the family eat at home, Samer receives Mary’s Meals at the primary school he attends in Antelias. His six-year-old brother, Mohammed, will soon enrol at the school too.

With two-thirds of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon still out of school and 74% of refugee families across the country food insecure, Mary’s Meals and our partner Dorcas are providing much-needed assistance to vulnerable people, like Shayma’s family, who have been forced to flee their conflict-ravaged homeland.

“It’s good to get the sandwiches for the children as financially it really helps,” says Shayma. “Samer is happy and he likes the food.”

Like many Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, the family is struggling to survive on their meagre resources. Yet, compared to others in their situation they count themselves as lucky.

“We are not living in an ideal home, but our Syrian neighbours are very poor and are living in a tent, so we are in a better situation than them.”

All of this is a far cry from the life the family lived before the war in the city of Hama, nestled on the banks of the River Orontes.

“I worked in a cheese factory,” says Shayma’s husband, Tarek. “Everything was much better. Then my house was destroyed and all I owned. I came here only with what I was wearing.”

The family made the crossing into Lebanon in the spring of 2012.

Tarek is happy that his wife and children are safe, but he worries about the rest of his family, who are still trapped in Syria.

“All my family are in Syria and there are problems where they are living,” he says. “My brother and cousin passed away because of the conflict.

“We want to go back to Syria but it is too dangerous.”

Tarek also worries about the impact their experiences have had on Samer and Mohammed.

He says: “Even though my children have been here since the start of the conflict, [they] start to cry when they hear fireworks.”

Both boys have missed a significant part of their schooling since the start of the war and their parents are concerned that they will be disadvantaged as a result.

“The children lost a year at school,” says Tarek. “We are afraid for their future as the children are behind at school. I want them to stay at school.”

The whole family look forward to a time when life is easier and they can return to some kind of normality.

“I hope the problems in Syria will end,” says Shayma. “And I hope we live better than the life we have now.”

For little Mohammed, though, the dreams of better times are all about one thing.

“I am looking forward to going to school,” he says.

*all names have been changed