Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Eager to Learn


Eager to Learn

Sharifa wanted desperately to go to school. But as a 12-year-old refugee from Syria, she wound up working in the potato fields.
1 November 2013
Sharifa poses for a portrait with her cat.

A few months ago, I was asked to write a story about a refugee child who touched my heart.

It was hard to decide which one. Every child I've met since working for UNHCR has moved me – the sadness, the fatigue, the anger, but then the resilience, the shy smiles and the strength. Every child I meet has a story to tell. But something told me I really had to share Sharifa's story.

Sharifa is a 12-year-old refugee child from Syria. Like many others, she used to live in a beautiful house in Syria, and now she lives in a makeshift tent.

She had just arrived from work, dirty and exhausted, when I first met her. She worked in the fields, collecting potatoes from 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. I asked her what she misses most in Syria, and her eyes lit up when she told me "My English book."

Homework is a chore for many children, but Sharifa is grateful for the chance to go to school.

Sharifa told me all about how much she misses school and how she longs to go back. Schools were full in the village she lives in in Lebanon; there was just no more capacity. I explained the process to Sharifa and her parents. I encouraged them to keep on trying, and to enrol her in the coming school year.

She came running to me and told me, "I did it, I did it! I finally went to school."

That was last June. In the first week of October I visited the settlement again. It was the first week of school, but I couldn't find Sharifa. I said to myself, that's it. She's at work, missing out on another year of education.

But just as I was about to leave, I saw a school bus arrive, and there she was. School uniform, bag, books – she had it all. I'd be lying if I said this wasn't one of the happiest moments in my life. She came running to me and told me, "I did it, I did it! I finally went to school."