In a brightly painted prefab caravan on a desolate stretch of the Jordanian desert, 32-year-old teacher Ghadaa Tinieh is working miracles.
Amongst her class of 15 Syrian refugee children in this far-flung outpost, three had never been to school before. More than half could barely read or write, and nearly all were struggling under the weight of trauma, poverty and exile.
Yet here, they are thriving. In the words of 12-year-old Mohammad, in school for the first time in his life: “My teacher started with me at zero, and I’m a 10 now.”
The class is part of a school designed to teach basic skills and offer enrichment to kids who have gone years without formal education or are struggling to stay afloat in Jordanian schools. Unlike most education projects, it specifically targets children whom aid agencies warn are at risk of becoming a lost generation of unskilled adults. It fills a critical gap in programs for refugees, and has an unlikely benefactor: 79-year-old Canadian Martine Stilwell.
“It’s a very concerning thing to think that all these children would end up illiterate or semi-literate and in a poverty trap,” Ms. Stilwell told The Globe and Mail.
After stints in Ecuador and Indonesia as the trailing spouse of a hydro engineer, the West Vancouver retired psychiatrist and mother of three had witnessed how conflict and destitution often hit children hardest. She had been reading about Syrian refugee children without access to school and was haunted by thoughts of what their future might hold.
“How can they rebuild Syria later? And it leaves people more vulnerable to extremism and so on. I was lucky enough to have a quality education, and I was concerned,” she said.