Drop In Center: A Sense of Normality to Children in Labor

Sunday 11 May 2014


Throughout his life in Syria, 12-year-old Zaher was the top student in his class, always achieving the highest grades in math and receiving numerous accolades. Like an average 12-year-old, a normal day for Zaher in Syria consisted of school, homework, playing outdoors, and an early bedtime.

“I wanted to become a surgeon and my nickname at school was doctor.” he shared.

When the violence in Syria escalated, Zaher could only attend school sporadically, on days when his village appeared calm. When the violence escalated, his family fled to Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. Zaher enrolled in the formal school in the camp and attended classes for several weeks. However, he soon insisted on dropping out.

Zaher’s mother shared, “he said that the subjects and teaching was very different than Syria. We had many arguments about his attendance which was never the case with Zaher before. But living in the unusual circumstances in the camp, I really could not force my son to go back to school.”

Soon after Zaher dropped out of school in Za’atari, he learned from peers how to earn money in the camp by hauling goods in a wheelbarrow.

Zaher explained, “After getting a wheelbarrow, I began waiting at the camp’s main entrance for families arriving from the border. Most families arrived exhausted and carrying their belongings. I offered to carry their bags on my wheelbarrow. On average, I daily earned 5 JD ($7 USD), depending on the distance I carried families goods in the camp.”

On other days, Zaher and his friends purchased food items, such as lentils, and sold them at the camp gate at a higher price to local shop owners.

“The reason I work in the camp is because my father has diabetes and he cannot work. By working, I help my own and other families as well.” said Zaher.

During the course of his work, Zaher learned of Save the Children and UNICEF’s Drop-In Center, located not far from the camp’s front gate. The Center was established in Za’atari Camp for children engaged in labor. It provides working children with psychosocial support and recreational activities, allowing them to “drop in” at any time of day to play or participate in educational and psychosocial activities. Zaher has attended the Drop-In Center for two months.

“I believe my old life in Syria is better for my age. I would have stayed in school and worked towards becoming a surgeon. I did receive school books when I attended the school in the camp and I reviewed the subjects at home sometimes to refresh my knowledge.” shared Zaher. “But, I do not want to go to school in the camp. I want my old school back. I come to this center because it provides me space to have fun during the day and I have made many friends here. I also really like the instructors at this center. They remind me of my favorite teachers in Syria.”

At the Drop-In Center, children participate in informal education, arts and crafts, recreational and other activities, which assist in renewing their sense of normalcy. Children also engage in structured educational and self-awareness activities, ranging from dance performances to sessions teaching them about child rights. Similar to Zaher, there are now over 50 children, registered at the Drop-In Center. Suffering immense trials and tribulations at such a young age, children like Zaher find calm and stability in Drop-In Center.