- Associated Press - Sunday, January 31, 2016

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - There are three new stand-alone classrooms in the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan, two with “Yale” painted on the sides by Syrian students.

In all, 180 more children and teenagers will get an education because of the efforts of two second-year graduate students at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, working with the nongovernmental organization Relief International.

Stephanie Leutert and Nitsan Shakked were inspired to help in the refugee crisis by the sight of Syrians escaping from the civil war in their country, especially the story of a boy who drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Greece.

“We felt we had to do something; Yale has to do something,” Shakked said during a Skype interview during a visit to Amman, Jordan. “Each of us went back and tried to figure out in our department what we could do.” Shakked is a hydrogeologist who has researched the refugees’ migration from North Africa to Europe.

“When I was there, there were a lot of young girls who were doing the classes,” said Leutert. “They had painted ‘Yale’ in blue letters on the caravan in multiple places. They had already outlined it by the time I arrived. . It was really cute.” Leutert had previously worked with internally displaced people in Uganda.

Danijel Cuturic of Relief International, the Yale students’ contact on the project, said there are about 30,000 Syrian refugees in the Azraq camp, with about 700 attending classes sponsored by the agency. About 450 of them are remedial students, Cuturic said.

While still in New Haven, “we were talking to Danijel about the needs,” Leutert said. “You can conceptualize it . but it’s really different to be on the ground” in the camps, she said.

She said the camp looks like a small city, with rows of houses, street lights and shared bathrooms, but there’s not much to do- it’s built for far more people than are living in the camp -so many prefer to move to the much larger Zaatari camp. Both are run by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Basically, we asked Danijel what is the need at the moment,” said Shakked. “We tried to make it a reality.” He told them the Azraq camp had the greater need.

They planned to raise $6,000 to buy one “caravan” or classroom, but ended up raising more than $17,000, enough to pay for three classrooms and tripling the number of students they can serve. They were able to buy desks, chairs and whiteboards as well.

Leutert said they raised the money through crowdsource.com, with help from a Yale School of Management student, matching grants from anonymous donors and from alumni. “This happened over a very short period of time,” she said. “Within about two weeks or three weeks we raised that amount of money.”

Of the 180 additional students who can attend classes in the Yale students’ classrooms, 150 are remedial students, Cuturic said.

There are two waves of classes per day, with 90 students in each shift, but lack of electricity in the camp prevents a third shift, Cuturic said. “Especially for the girls, parents would never allow them to come to school as soon as it starts getting dark,” he said.

There is both formal and informal schooling in Jordan and high-schoolers need to take a test, called the Tawjihi exam, in order to continue their education beyond high school. The students, ages 6 through 18, who study with Relief International have missed school because of the civil war in Syria and spending time in the refugee camps, Cuturic said. Some have psycho-social issues too. They receive remedial instruction in English, Arabic, math and science.

“The most important reason we chose to work with Relief International is their success rate with Tawjihi students,” said Nakked. Last year, out of 350 eligible students, only eight passed, Cuturic said. All were among those who studied with the aid of Relief International.

The exam is especially tough for the Syrian refugees because it’s a Jordanian test. “It’s just a different system . so that’s why it’s so difficult for them to pass,” Nakked said.

“In one month, we will know the results, but students are complaining that the mathematics exam was extremely difficult,” Leutert said. “You have to have 99 out of 100 score to enter a medical university, so it’s very competitive.”

But it’s “a ticket out of the camp if you pass those exams,” said Nakked.

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Information from: New Haven Register, http://www.nhregister.com

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