Zuhair needs another chance at education

A Syrian refugees’ dream of studying French and becoming a translator crushed by the war in Syria.


Zuhair sits proudly behind a desk full of papers in a caravan filled with tools and equipment that other Syrian refugees living in Azraq refugee camp in Jordan can borrow to maintain their shelters among a variety of other uses.

Similar to the more than 35,500 Syrian refugees living in the camp, located some 80 km away from the Syrian border, Zuhair lives with his mother and four siblings in a white shelter, one of many that Syrians now, and for three years, call home.

The 27-year-old from Damascus was a French language student at the University of Damascus, studying what he loved, languages. However, after the crisis began, he was forced to leave university during his second year. It was not an easy decision for the family to leave their home, but the situation became unbearable and the family needed to ensure their safety. Zuhair was not happy about leaving his studies, but he had some hope of returning in the near future.

After his arrival to the camp in 2014, and after the months and years passed, Zuhair felt hopeless and lost, ‘I wanted to become a certified translator one day’ he says, ‘I never thought I would leave university.’ Growing up in a family that prioritized education: his father studied Arabic literature and passed on his love for languages to his children; his older sister studied English literature, and his brother, now in Germany, is studying English and German. ‘I lost my chance at education because of the war’, he says.

Working with the Danish Refugee Council

Since November 2016, Zuhair has been working at the Danish Refugee Council’s (DRC) centre in Azraq refugee camp as a keeper for the tools library. ‘It’s good to do something useful while living in a camp’, he says, ‘but it is not what I want. I know there are many opportunities for me outside, but I just need to reach them somehow’, hoping that one day he can achieve his ambitions and be the person he had hoped he would once become.

At his job with the DRC in Azraq, Zuhair runs the tools library making sure he keeps track of who rented what, when, and why, and managing the different items like paint, shovels, drills, screws and many more that refugees borrow to maintain their shelters or make furniture like TV stands and shelves.

DRC opened its first community centre in Azraq in August 2016 and works to link emergency assistance activities with the need for sustainable income-generating opportunities in such a protracted displacement context. The centre provides cash assistance, psycho-social support activities, cash-for-work s, and technical skills development trainings like tailoring, painting, and shoe repair, in addition to the provision of small business grants for people who would like to start their own home-based projects. DRC is also supporting refugees in Azraq by connecting them to sustainable employment opportunities with private sector actors outside of the camp.

Zuhair has been able to build friendships and learn new things through his job at the centre. Among the many papers on his desk lies a new notebook filled with Arabic sentences that he had translated into English. ‘I will continue learning. Although we are in camp, but learning is a process that does not end,’ he says. He takes time to practice English one or two hours a day, and being around DRC’s staff helps him practice the language.

Since 2016, the community centres in Azraq graduated 320 trainees who have learned a skill, many of whomare now working and generating some income to support their families.

Lost memories and an unclear future

Recollecting the good memories of his life back in Syria is difficult for Zuhair, ‘the war has erased all the good memories and left me stuck here,’ he says. ‘It’s good I have a job that keeps me busy and learning’.

Zuhair had applied for a scholarship to continue his degree in French studies in Paris and is hoping he would hear good news soon.

As he sits in his small office thinking of the green Paris and of what was once a green Syria, a man walks in asking to borrow a drill. Zuhair searches for a new form and fills the boxes with the needed information, gives the man some instructions and passes him the drill. The man thanks him and says good bye, while Zuhair waves back silently and says ‘Au Revoir, A la Prochaine!’ in his head, which means ‘good bye and see you soon’ in French.