Mohammad and Rayan


Syrian refugees Mohammad, 11, and Rayan, 6, at their school in Jordan. Overcrowding and cold classrooms in the winter have made it hard for the brothers to learn. ©UNHCR/Hannah Maule-ffinch

Eleven-year-old Mohammad remembers the school he once attended in Daraa, Syria.

“It had a nice playground, with lots of plants and grass,” he recalls.

He was in kindergarten at the time. Mohammad lived with his mother, father and five siblings in their family home.

He doesn’t recall the day they had to flee their home to escape the approaching violence – it was in 2013, and he was only six years old. His brother, Rayan, was still a baby.

His family crossed the border into Jordan and made their way to Za’atari refugee camp, where they stayed for three months before relocating to Ramtha, a town near Irbid.

The elementary school Mohammad and Rayan attend is severely overcrowded and deteriorating. Originally designed for a maximum of 500 students, the influx of Syrian refugees has grown the student body to more than 1,100. That means that as many as 55 students in rooms built to accommodate 30.

Overcrowding also has serious implications for the school’s utilities.

“The main challenges are the school’s water and sanitation facilities, furniture and especially the electrical and heating systems,” says Mahmoud Al-Khateeb, the school’s principal. “There are huge pressures to the school from so many students – the maintenance and facilities can’t keep up.”

Despite the challenges of their school, Mohammad and Rayan make the best of every day. Mohammad’s favorite subject is English, while Rayan enjoys Arabic.

“Children need to go to school and finish their education,” Mohammad says. “School should be about teamwork, partnership and working together.”