Despite our rural location, we sometimes get the chance to welcome thought-provoking guests to our offices for a creative session. This week we were fortunate enough to host Rudayna Abdo, a great friend and colleague from the THNK Institute. Rudayna is founder of Thaki – a Netherlands-based NGO which works to support children in refugee camps to access education by recycling corporate laptops and loading them with educational software.
Thaki has a particular focus on the Lebanon, where the Syrian conflict has brought more than 1 million (officially recognised) refugees into a country of just 6 million people – with more than 300,000 arriving in 2015 alone. Refugees can spend many years in camps (displaced individuals are likely to be exiled for an average of 20 years according to UN figures) and children are especially likely to suffer in their educational development, as access to schooling is limited and many refugee children have to find work to support their families.
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 3.7 million of the 6 million primary and secondary school-age refugees under their mandate have no school to go to. Human Rights Watch points out that half of the world’s 3.5 million refugee children of primary school-age attend classes, but fewer than a quarter of the 1.95 million secondary school-age children do. In countries like Pakistan and Lebanon, enrolment falls to just 5 percent and the situation is worse for girls; just 7 girls for every 10 refugee boys go to secondary school.
The ILO has evidence to show that refugee child labour in the Lebanon is on the increase; restrictions on adult movement coupled with the rents charged by landlords of refugee camps mean that many children are forced to work in the fertile Beqaa Valley, picking fruit and vegetables or pruning vines. Wages are low and labour organisers and overseers take heavy commissions for arranging work, leaving children with as little as $3 per day to pay rents and feed their families.
The problem is exacerbated by a low focus of charitable and NGO support on education – reported by Human Rights Watch to account for less than 2 percent of donations for emergencies. Host countries may also deny refugee children the right to enrol in secondary schools outside camps, making provision of education within them even more important.
It is known that children who can access education tend to be healthier, happier and enjoy far better prospects of escaping poverty in the long-term. Conversely, those who do not can face years of unskilled, low-paid labour; the threat of physical and sexual violence; and possible radicalisation.
The work that Thaki is doing is making an as-yet modest but important contribution to addressing this need. Syrian children are already learning new skills and knowledge, gaining improved confidence and independence and developing real prospects of securing long-term self-sufficiency.
They need more businesses to divert unwanted hardware to their cause. Any donated laptops are securely wiped before being loaded with learning software provided by partners and shipped to schools in the Lebanon. If your organisation has resources to offer, please drop us a line, or contact Thaki direct at [email protected].
Rudayna has an interesting story to tell as she herself is a refugee – her family fled Palestine to settle in Lebanon, only to be forced to escape during the civil war when she was a young child. After periods in Cyprus, Greece, Canada, the US and UAE, Rudayna is settling in the Hague and devoting her time to giving back. Hear her story on TEDx.