Most Shared

I asked this kid what she wanted to be when she grew up. She said, 'Nothing.'

While education isn't an all-encompassing solution for refugee kids, it can make a big difference.

I asked this kid what she wanted to be when she grew up. She said, 'Nothing.'

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

When you ask a lot of kids this question, they usually have quick answers. They want to be doctors, artists, firefighter ... you name it, they'll dream it up. Kids have pretty awesome (and hilarious) ambitions.

Most kids, that is.


When I asked Zeinab, a 9-year-old girl living at the Mosaab al-Telyani refugee camp in Lebanon, this question, her answer had a completely different tone.

"I don't want to be anything. I won't become anything," Zeinab said

Zeinab, 9 years old on her first day at the program. All photos taken by the author, used with permission.

Zeinab is one of those kids you'd expect to be at the top of her class.

Unlike the other kids in her school, she is very quiet and often sits by herself. She's exceptionally thoughtful and beyond her years in education. I imagine she'd be the one raising her hand all the time at an American elementary school, the one acing vocabulary and math tests.

But at the Mosaab al-Telyani camp school, Zeinab rarely attends class. She has even said that she plans to drop out of school completely when she turns 13.

Zeinab has been assured for years that she would not become anything in life.

She had no hope for a life different from the one she was living, and her weak, almost nonexistent, education hadn't encouraged ambition. She had migrated from Syria to Lebanon over two years ago and lost both her parents and all her family members to the war. She lives at an orphanage in the Mosaab al-Telyani camp, which is right across the border from Syria in Beqaa Valley, Lebanon. It's home to hundreds of Syrian refugees. Zeinab is expected to marry in her teenage years in order to survive.

Zeinab writes her name in English.

Many Syrian refugee children like Zeinab miss years of school and receive little to no education after they leave their home countries. The UNHCR found last year that 66% of the 80 refugee children they interviewed in Lebanon did not attend school. And a World Bank report revealed that failure and dropout rates among Syrian children are now almost twice the national average for Lebanese children.

While education is certainly not an all-encompassing solution for refugee kids like Zeinab, it can make a big difference.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reports that 9,500 people a day — approximately one family every 60 seconds — are being displaced in Syria. The average global displacement for all refugees is 17 years, and it's likely that for Syrians, the time period will be longer. So while the proportion of the refugee crisis is unprecedented — a generation without education is a lost generation — the impact of quality education could be huge.

A recent Human Rights Watch study concluded that ensuring Syrian refugees have education will reduce the risks of early marriage and military recruitment and will increase their earning potential. Most importantly, education will shape Syrian youth to tackle the challenges they will face rebuilding their country or adjusting to unpredictable futures.

For three months, Zeinab was part of an education project that hoped to improve basic language and math skills for children with significant gaps in their education.

The program was aimed at helping these kids eventually enter the Lebanese public school system, but it was also about instilling hope and reinvigorating ambition in a generation that seems to have given up. The classrooms became safe spaces not only for education but also for building self-esteem and inspiring dreams for the future.

When the program ended, I asked Zeinab the same question again: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

This time she had an answer ready: "I want to be a teacher."

Zeinab, on her last day of the program.

True

Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

Keep Reading Show less

Since three coronavirus vaccines received emergency use authorization from the FDA early in 2021, the question of how to get a high percentage of the population vaccinated has haunted public health officials. As hospitals across the country fill with severely ill COVID-19 patients, the vast majority of whom are unvaccinated, the question remains.

A funeral home in North Carolina is taking a unique tack in advocating for vaccinations, one that's striking and to-the-point.

A truck advertised as Wilmore Funeral Home drove around Bank of America Stadium before the Carolina Panthers football game in Charlotte over the weekend, and it had a simple message: "Don't get vaccinated."

Keep Reading Show less