Eleven-year-old Mohammad Khaled Shehadeh lives in the refugee camp Al Azraq in Jordan. Here he gets the chance to catch up at school, while dreaming about becoming a teacher or superhero.
“My favourite lesson at school is Arabic language. Because if I were to walk past a sign that said ‘danger’ and I couldn’t read it, I would not be safe,” asserts Mohammad Shehadeh with a sense of maturity chillingly surpassing his mere 11 years of age.
Syrian born Mohammad, currently lives in Azraq camp in Jordan. Home to nearly 33,000 other refugees, the site is located 80 kilometres from the country’s capital Amman. This is the city where Mohammad’s family initially resided during their first year in Jordan after fleeing Aleppo in late 2014. The reason Mohammad’s father moved the young family from Jordan’s capital to Azraq camp was for Mohammad and his siblings’ education.
“I had just finished the second grade, that’s when the war started – my father said we were going on a one-way trip to escape Syria but by the time we got to Jordan we’d missed a lot of school”.
Mohammad now attends Mkhaizen's primary school for boys, a catch-up school set up by Unicef and situated in the heart of Azraq camp. Whilst equipped with all basic amenities, the camp feels baron. Heavy winds result in a chalky tasting dust filling the air, turning everything a sterile shade of grey.
“Me and my mum and dad, and my 6 brothers and sisters, we used to live in village 3b but we moved to village 6c, I prefer it here as it’s nearer to the water pump, you get more shelter from the winds and it’s closer to school” says Mohammad as he wipes the dust from his mouth as he nears the end of his 15-minute walk home from school.
School provides a sense of comfort and stability
As Mohammad pushes the door, secured with a flimsy piece of rope, to his tin caravan open, he is greeted with a wave of heat. Despite being 4.30 pm, the time most boys from the camp get home from school, the temperatures are overwhelming in the ill vented identical homesteads.
Mohammad’s school day started at 11.30 am as education within Azraq camp is divided by gender and it’s the girls’ turn in the morning. Like any other day, Mohammad was up at 6 am however to join the many boys on their bikes that ride through the systematically organized camp villages divided by numerical rows.
“I borrow a bike to go out and get the bread for breakfast, but I only use the bike for important tasks though as if I just played on it whenever I liked I might cause the tire to become flat” contemplates Mohammad sensibly as he takes time to think about each sentence before he says it.
For Mohammad, school is something he looks forward to, “school is important to know how to read and know things” he says assertively. But Mohammad’s enthusiasm for school is not just because he’s an avid learner, but because the nurturing environment provides a sense of comfort and stability.
“On my first day at this school it reminded me of my school in Syria and my friends back there, I miss them, Syria is the best place to live. I’ve made new friends though, my best friend in the camp is Ali – he doesn’t say much but you still like him anyway”.
The catch-up school is specifically designed for children like Mohammad who for various, often traumatic, reasons have missed substantial time from school and have become behind compared to their peers in the mainstream system. The catch-up schools facilitate a much-needed fast track to get the children up to speed so they can re-join their appropriate academic years.
For Mohammad, and the many children who are in a similar position, catch up schools are an invaluable opportunity that can help them stay on track with achieving their dreams and not fall victim to the injustice that is lack of education.
“I want to be a teacher when I grow up, I want to teach languages and travel to Europe to do so”.
The football club helps the children to flourish
Mohammad grins enthusiastically as he grabs the football from the corner of the classroom and gestures to his friend Ali to join him out in the playground for a game.
The catch-up school not only provides educational but social support, which is vital for the often emotionally vulnerable children who fill the classrooms. For Mohammad, the school football club is a source of fun encouraging his social development and enabling him to flourish into the confident young man he deserves to become.
“I love football, the coach is great. I used to cheer for a football team in Syria but now I cheer for our team at the camp” smiles Mohammad proudly.
If Mohammad’s rapid progress so far at the Al Nethameye catch up school is anything to go by, he’s on track of having the potential to achieve his dreams of becoming a teacher. If for whatever reason he decides to take a change of course however, Mohammad’s career ‘plan b’ reminds us that despite his very adult experiences, he is a 10-year-old who deserves access to opportunities for his future like any other primary school pupil.
“I’d also like to become a superhero. I’d then fly around the camp helping everyone who needed it”.