News ID: 198518
Published: 0643 GMT August 13, 2017

Syria's lost generation: Refugee children at work

Syria's lost generation: Refugee children at work

Less than half of Lebanon's school-aged Syrian refugee children enrolled in school last year, and it is expected that at least 50 percent will drop out of classes by the time they are nine years old. Half of the remaining number will leave school by 10, according to the United Nations.

Transport, regardless of how low the price, is often unaffordable. Language can be a barrier, as some subjects in the Lebanese curriculum are taught in French or English, and in other cases, parents worry about bullying. Many times, girls are expected to stay home to assist with chores, while boys are expected to work and provide for their parents, wrote.

Odey and Saddam are just two among thousands of Syria's lost generation.

In a makeshift schoolroom inside an apartment in the southern suburbs of Beirut, children are busy memorizing their ABCs when a young boy enters to make an announcement: He is leaving classes to go to work.

"I will not have time for school any more," said 12-year-old Odey, noting that he would be dropping out of the program that was supposed to prepare him for the official Lebanese school system.

His family left Aleppo more than a year ago and found a home in Beirut for around $300 a month. Six children, along with their parents and grandmother, share a concrete cube in the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp.

"Dad has diabetes and needs insulin. Grandma broke her back and had a surgery. She is in very poor health. It costs a lot to take care of them," Odey said. "We have to work. Every family member has to work as much as possible. I am paying for the daily expenses and my dad is saving to repay a debt."

Their rent has not been paid for almost a year. Debts are piling up, and Odey's job brings an indispensable $6 home each day.

It is not hard for children to find work in Shatila. Butchers, grocery stores and coffee shops all welcome cheap labor to carry around boxes, fill shelves and sweep floors. Odey, who works in the market, spends 12 hours each day emptying boxes and making sure that new products are properly arranged.

Although he admits that he would prefer school, he does not dwell on his future: "I do not know what I want to be when I grow up. What if I die before? When I grow up, then I will decide what I want to do." There is no sadness or fear in his voice.

Their home was destroyed by bombs and there is not much left to go back to, she said. For Odey, his family's old life is something he avoids thinking about.

When Saddam grows up, he wants to own a grocery store, just like the one where he has worked for the past four years — ever since his family left their home in Syria. Twelve years old, he has not spent a day of his life in a formal school.

"Every day, I wake up at 8 a.m. and then I go to work, where I clear empty boxes or put products on shelves," he told Al  Jazeera.

This weekly routine earns him $43; it does not even cover the family's rent.

Saddam's father, who is ill, spends most of his time aimlessly roaming the streets of southern Beirut and occasionally helps clean a nearby mosque. His mother has heart problems, diabetes and hypertension. They have nine children, four of whom are married with their own family responsibilities.

The UN helps them with food, but it is never enough. The family quickly burns through its $189 monthly food card.


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