Malala Skype call with Syrian girls highlights education emergency

/ Syria, 9 September 2013
Video conference between the two Syrian refugees, Zahra Katou, 15 years old, (appearing in Green and Brown outfit) and her twin sister Om Kolthoum (in White and Pink) and on the other side, Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan on 5th of September 2013. © Ramzi Haidar/ UnicefVideo conference between the two Syrian refugees, Zahra Katou, 15 years old, (appearing in Green and Brown outfit) and her twin sister Om Kolthoum (in White and Pink) and on the other side, Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan on 5th of September 2013. © Ramzi Haidar/ Unicef

Education campaigner Malala Yousafzai is helping to raise awareness of the education emergency facing Syrian children.

As children here in the UK settle back into school, the one million Syrian children living as refugees are facing serious challenges in getting back to class.

In Lebanon, the government estimates that there will be close to 550,000 school-aged Syrian children in the country by the end of this year, in addition to the 300,000 Lebanese children in the public school system. In 2013, just 15 per cent of Syrian refugee children were studying in formal or non-formal systems.

Malala arranged to speak by Skype with young refugees Zahra and Om Kolthoum Katou, who were forced from their home in Aleppo, and have been in Lebanon for a year.

The girls were without education for more than six months and are now attending catch-up classes run by local organisations supported by Unicef, the world’s leading children’s agency, to try to get them back into school.

Malala told them of their plans to return to school and become doctors: “I totally support you. You are very brave. I believe that you will get your education, that you will go to school – and that no one can stop you. One day you will be my doctor and I will be your patient.”

The 15-year-olds told Malala: “Our school in Aleppo shut. There was fighting and bombing around the building and we could no longer go there to learn. We were so scared. It was a terrible situation but we want to continue our education – we don’t want it to stop.”

“We are dealing with an education emergency within a spiralling humanitarian crisis,” explains Annamaria Laurini, Unicef Representative in Lebanon.

“Syrian children have lost everything, including the right to go to school, and we need to do everything we can to give them back the chance of a future.”

“In Lebanon, Unicef and partner organisations are running lessons in public schools, community centres and tented settlements. But much more needs to be done to help more children,” says Ms. Laurini.

“Getting children back to learning, even if it’s just for a few hours a day, protects them, gives them hope, and keeps them on track to as normal and fulfilling a life as possible.”

Since last school year, almost two million Syrian children have dropped out of school, nearly 40 per cent of all pupils registered in grades 1 to 9.

“For a country that was close to achieving universal primary education before the conflict started, the numbers are staggering” said Maria Calivis, Unicef Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Displacement, violence, fear and instability are robbing hundreds of thousands of children of the joy of learning. Parents tell us they are desperate for their children to continue their education”.

Far more financial support and funding is needed to provide more Syrian children with access to education. Of Unicef’s $470 million appeal for the Syria response, education remains the least funded sector, with just $51 million received out of $161 million requested.

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3 responses to “Malala Skype call with Syrian girls highlights education emergency”

  1. Lisa Tammi says:

    My name is Lisa Tammi and I’m working as a project cordinatoor at UR (Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company), part of the public service broadcasting group in Sweden. UR’s mandate is to produce and broadcast
    educational and general knowledge programs which enhance, fill out, and strengthen the work of others active in education. We take particular responsibility for those with disabilities and for those among ethnic and language minorities in Sweden.

    The thing is that we are going to produce a serial about people who have made a difference in the society. It’s a serial in 10 parts who’s going to bring up a new person or incident in every part. In two of the teen programs we are going to illustrate the amazing Rosa Parks and her courage to make a difference for the black people in the U.S during the 1950’s, we are also going to portrait Raoul Wallenberg and his courage to stand up for the jews in Budapest during the world war two.

    I wonder about the article that you wrote about Malalas skype-conversation with Zahra Katou, and her twin sister Om Kolthoum, who are this girls and how did they get in contact with Malala? Cause we would like to do a program and focus on Malala, where we lift her strength as a young girl and her amazing work for education and equality for everyone.

    Best regards.

    • Max MacBride says:

      Hi Lisa,

      Thanks for your comment. This is an issue which Malala was really interested in – education in emergencies. As the girls are attending specialist catch-up classes with an organisation supported by UNICEF in Lebanon, the connection was made.

      If you’d like to email us at with more detail we may be able to help further.

      Max MacBride
      UUK Digital Team

  2. Barbara Parker says:

    My prayers, my thoughts and my tears for all of you, the displaced and hurting children of Syria are with you. I completely agree that getting all of you back to school with purpose, resolve and a much needed break from the sorrow is the best medicine for the world.

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