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Vocational Training Gives Ray of Hope to Syria’s Internal Refugees

A training institute in northwestern Syria says that in less than two years it has helped hundreds of refugees who fled from fighting in government-controlled areas to find work.

The training, provided by Ataa Vocational Training Institute, has helped people like Basil Al-Amouri rebuild lives disrupted by Syria’s ongoing civil war.

Seven years ago, Al-Amouri was forced to abandon his studies at the Faculty of Arts, Hama University, after his hometown came under bombardment. He and his family fled from Kafr Zita to Idlib, about 85 kilometres to the north, where he enrolled in learning home appliances maintenance.

“I never imagined that I would drop out of my university, and leave my city, to a new life full of countless difficulties,” Al-Amouri, who is 27, said in a voice message to Al-Fanar Media.

But “the availability of an alternative education opportunity eased the burden of displacement,” he said. “It helped me to be in the market, to sustain a source of income for my family, and most importantly restore my self-confidence after hopes and ambitions were dashed.”

Huge Demand for Training

The Ataa Association for Humanitarian Relief, a nonprofit organization registered in Turkey, established the Ataa Vocational Training Institute in June 2020. The institute was set up in Idlib, about 35 kilometres from the Turkish border in a region outside the Syrian government’s control. It receives financial support from SPARK, a Dutch nongovernmental organization.

“Preference was given to vulnerable groups of people with special needs, widows, and orphans.”

Fayadh Shoghari
Director of the Ataa Vocational Training Institute

In a video published on YouTube, the association said that more than 4,000 candidates applied for the institute’s courses in only one week, of whom 352 were accepted.

“Preference was given to vulnerable groups of people with special needs, widows, and orphans,” Fayadh Shoghari, director of the institute, said in a telephone conversation with Al-Fanar Media.

The institute provides certificates in 12 specialisations for young people between 16 and 30 years old, Shoghari said. Of the 330 male and female students who graduated, more than 40 percent found jobs in their specialisations, while others set up their own businesses.

Those taking its courses include students who were unable to complete their studies in other parts of Syria, where the higher education system has collapsed.

After a study period of between three and six months, graduates obtain an educational certificate. The trades taught include electrical installations, sanitary installations, maintenance of electrical household appliances, maintenance and installation of solar energy systems, sweets and pastry-making, men’s hairdressing, women’s hairdressing, and women’s sewing.

A Desperate Flight to Safety

Al-Amouri said that after his training, he started a business to maintain household appliances in Atma, a town farther north in the Idlib governorate. The town is home to thousands of displaced people from the war zones inside Syria.

In his call to Al-Fanar Media, Al-Amouri described the experience of leaving Kafr Zita.

Gallery: Learning New Trades after Forced Relocation

“We fled under the sound of cannons, the buzzing of planes and a hail of bullets,” he recalled. “This was a main motive to search for practical help that would lead us to a safer life, which I found in this opportunity for vocational training.”

A major motive for establishing an educational institute, according to Shoghari, was “the rise in unemployment rates in northern Syria to unprecedented levels.”

Shoghari, who has a degree in statistics from Aleppo University, said he and his team “chose the specialisations after studying the needs of the residential groups in northern Syria, whether they were residents of the city or displaced.”

He added: “The aim of these vocational trainings is to qualify young people to work in professions in demand in northern Syria, and … to create job opportunities for the unemployed who have not completed their education.”

There are 12 trainers of both sexes, most of them university-educated. They design curricula for students to fit in with other courses, and to suit their various levels of learning.

Challenges for Female Trainees

Ammoun Al-Mahmoud, a sewing trainer, is paid $250 per month for working four hours a day. For her, work was an opportunity to improve her living conditions. She also fled her home in Kafr Zita to escape military operations that destroyed most of the residential areas.

“Despite the challenges I faced in the beginning, the work after the experience of displacement and diaspora helped me regain my confidence.”

Ammoun Al-Mahmoud
A trainer in sewing

“Despite the challenges I faced in the beginning, the work after the experience of displacement and diaspora helped me regain my confidence,” she said in a voice message to Al-Fanar Media.

Female students face challenges, Al-Mahmoud said.  These include getting to the institute due to overcrowding and poor roads, in addition to the lack of machines and raw materials for the trainees in their homes. Another difficulty was “integrating students, as they come from different backgrounds in Syria.”

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Another graduate, Noor, 21, abandoned her regular studies, after her family fled the town of Jarjanaz, south of Idlib. The young woman, who did not give her family name, trained in women’s hairdressing before she started her own business from home.

“I hair-dressed a number of brides inside the camps and in the town where I live,” she said.

Noting the “large number of graduates in the market,” she said “any alternative educational opportunity is necessary to help thousands of displaced men and women continue their lives.” There are not enough vocational training institutes in northern Syria “to accommodate all those who want to learn and who live on aid,” she said.

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By: Amr EL-Tohamy

Amr is an Egyptian journalist who writes for Al-Masry Al-Youm.
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