Zahra and Om Kolthoum's Story

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Zahra and Om Kolthoum Katou are cousins. Their family refers to them as twins. They fled Aleppo and are now living in Baalbeck in the Bekaa valley in Lebanon. In Aleppo, their home town in Syria, they were forced to leave school because of heavy fighting and bombing. They were out of school for more than 6 months and now UNICEF is helping them get back to school, with the help of partner organisations. They are now in catch-up classes, run by "Sawa", a UNICEF partner organisation, to try to get them back into mainstream education. They are desperate to return to school as they both hope to be doctors. Nonetheless, the challenges are immense. The girls have missed out on key study, are living in tiny homes, and some subjects in Lebanon are taught in French and English, while they were taught in Arabic in Syria. The classes they are attending are part of a huge non-formal education programme which UNICEF is running through local organisations to fit around the specific needs of children. Classes vary from basic literacy and numeracy to advanced, accelerated learning programmes.

Zahra: “Because of the conflict in Syria we had to stop going to class. Our school in Aleppo was hit by the bombardment. There was fighting and bombing around the building and we could no longer go there to learn. We were very scared. It was really a terrible situation.”

Om Kolthoum: “All I want is to continue learning. I am trying in special classes to catch up on the study I have missed because of the conflict. Zahra comes to class with me and we are learning a lot of English and working hard. Going to school made me feel confident and I want to feel like that again. I want to be a doctor. I want to focus on my studies and my future.”

In Lebanon, UNICEF and partner organisations are running lessons in public schools, community centres and tented settlements which they hope will reach more than 267,000 children. UNICEF is even running a "classroom in a bus" which will reach the most vulnerable children in the Bekaa valley. But much more needs to be done to help more children. Education is the most critically underfunded of all sectors of UNICEF's humanitarian response to the Syria crisis across the region.

Imagine you were forced to leave your home and could only take one thing with you, what one thing would that me?

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