A Cinderella Story
Education for Syrian Refugees in Southern Turkey
For the first time in four years Aysha is attending school and dreaming of becoming a doctor, but it was not long ago that the nine-year-old Syrian refugee was out on the streets going from home to home selling bread to support her family – a little girl with no happy ending in sight.
“I had no choice,” says Aysha. “My father had no work. I had to sell bread to help my family.”
In 2012, Aysha and her family fled Aleppo after the death of one of her brothers - his heart pierced by a piece of shrapnel. Aysha was the only girl of five siblings.
Yahya, a member of International Medical Corps’ Hygiene and Health Promotion team in Turkey, first met the then seven-year-old when Aysha was already working long hours. After a few months Yahya was able to meet with Aysha’s family and talk to them about their situation. They spoke to Aysha’s mother about the risks of gender-based violence, the threats that a vulnerable child can face on the streets and the importance of self-protection, hand-washing and most importantly education.
After months of conversations to allay the concerns of her parents around the little girl’s safety, Aysha attended an activity organised by International Medical Corps to raise awareness about the impact of child labour. She also attended follow-up sessions on nutrition, health and hygiene practices as well as the importance of education.
Yahya said: “For girls like Aysha – and there are many – it is incredibly difficult to continue their studies.
“After speaking to her family a few times, we were able to convince them to send Aysha to the social centre near their home set up through United Nations High Commission for Refugees funding for refugees to learn soft vocational skills - a centre in which she is now attending English, Turkish and computer classes.
“She has now stopped working as her father and older brother have been able to find regular work.”
The ongoing war, and the family’s subsequent flight to Turkey, has denied Aysha valuable years of education, but she is now attending school. Although the local school only offers half-day lessons, she is bursting with excitement to have an opportunity to be back in the classroom with her peers.
Her family too have a new found excitement, having moved into a new home paid for through the wages earned by her father and eldest brother as plasterers on construction sites. Her mother struggles to hide her radiant smile as she talks of how happy she is to have moved into their new house – far removed from their previous home, a dank basement.
Despite her age, Aysha is tough and has great ambitions for the future. She says that she wants to be a doctor so she can help people. “If I was a doctor I could help people like my brother who needed medical care but didn’t get it in time.”
Seeing Aysha’s eagerness and her passion to learn, her mother is now enthusiastic for her daughter to study. “Aysha gets upset if she can’t go to school. She works so hard. After seeing how enthusiastic she is I understood how important an education is to her future. I hope she can make it.”
In addition to her usual classes Aysha attends drawing lessons – one of her favourite activities. “I like Cinderella very much; she is very beautiful and clean. I like drawing her pictures.”
Much like her hero Cinderella, Aysha has remained smart, irrepressible and considerate of others through it all. Finding herself in a vulnerable situation due to the horrors of the ongoing war, the young girl never gave up hope.