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Training for peace and prosperity on the Syrian border

Map along the Syrian borderA road sign on our way to Azraq in Jordan shows this is a tough place to live at the moment.

Some of the world's most destructive conflicts are close, and that means displaced people. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is doing an amazing job helping to stabilise people's lives in refugee camps.

One of the most important things they do is skills development; training people so they have the skills they need to be more effective members of the camp community, and to rebuild Syria when they get to go home.

Around 120,000 registered Syrian refugees in Jordan are aged between 15 and 24. Prior to the crisis, two-thirds of Syrian students attended secondary school, and 1 in 5 young people were enrolled in university. Others – particularly those from rural areas – pursued vocational education. Unfortunately, many young people lost the option to continue their education because of the crisis.

The NRC works in a number of refugee camps to help young people continue their education. To date, more than 4,500 young people have been enrolled in NRC education programmes and over 3,000 have graduated. And the NRC is currently piloting training to City & Guilds standards, through our in-country training partner Luminos.

We wanted to find out more about their aspirations, their needs, and the future. So, the City & Guilds Group’s Global Skills Development Services team pooled its volunteering days to work with the NRC in refugee camps. We made ourselves useful while gaining an understanding of the day-to-day pressures. We also offered to review the skills development elements of the NRC’s Youth Programme.

The need for recognition

One of the most repeated needs was for recognised credentials and qualifications. If you want to get one of the scarce and highly-prized jobs with NGOs in the camp, it helps to have recognised credentials – something that a lot of these young refugees just don't have. And, if you are planning for life after the camp, recognised credentials provide a foundation to be built on in the future.

Syrian refugeeThe NRC is working to tackle the problems of limited education through dedicated youth skills centres. The centres offer three month training courses based on youth interests and participatory assessments. The courses on offer include tailoring, barbering and beautician skills, electrical wiring, welding, distance learning, office management and certified ICDL (IT) courses.

Finding opportunities to prove and develop competence can be tough, but the trainers are inventive:

Electrical engineering students hook up circuits and bulbs to trees to make a changing pattern of lights after dark. A great exercise for the electrical engineering students.

Seeking normality

Overall, we found a positive learning culture and real optimism for the future. But most surprising to us was the feeling of stable normality. There are frequent reminders that the 'normality' is thin and new, overlaying terrible trauma, but the normal conventions of language and behaviour allowed us to explore the refugees' world and to apply our experience.

We spent our time in two Refugee camps Za'atari and Azraq. Za'atari is the older and more chaotic, but also the place where society has been allowed the time and space to become the most normal. Through the middle of the camp there is a street which has become a large and busy market called the Champs-Elysee. Perhaps named ironically at the start, it is now a source of pride and shops change hands for substantial sums.

We stopped at a bakery on the Champs-Elysee to get lunch, where we were invited in by Abdul Hariri, the bakery owner.

He was very supportive of NRC's work: a prospective employer confirming that refugees will need recognised credentials and qualifications to move forward. In fact he was so supportive that he refused to let us pay. As we were on his patch and under his hospitality, we accepted three large bags of the most fantastic pastries with thanks.

The experience of these two camps we spent time at, really made me think about how we could return the favour. I hope that we can grow our work with the NRC, Luminos and the Government of Jordon to help more people in the camps, so they can develop the skills they need in the future.

Mike Dawe, Group Director, City & Guilds Group

Mike Dawe is a Group Director at City & Guilds Group. He leads the Global Skills Development Services team.

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