Palestine Refugee Students from Syria Rise Above Borders Through Skype

“When the explosion happened I was scared, I thought it was the end of the world. I couldn’t see anything in front of me,” Hasan, a Palestine refugee from Syria now living in Beirut, explains to his England-based peers over Skype.

A student in Damascus talks over Skype with Grey Coats Hospital School in Westminster, England, November 2014. ©UNRWA/Taghrid Mohammad
A student in Damascus talks over Skype with Grey Coats Hospital School in Westminster, England, November 2014. ©UNRWA/Taghrid Mohammad

Palestine refugee children living through conflict in Syria have seen and experienced events far beyond their years. They have faced displacement and the loss of family members, friends and community. They have left their homes in Syria for neighboring countries like Lebanon and Jordan, with no idea when or if they will return.

“What happens after explosions? Does school get evacuated? Do your lessons and exams get canceled?” a listening student asks Hasan.

Students from Haifa School, Beirut who took part in #myvoicemyschool,November 2014. © UNRWA Archive
Students from Haifa School, Beirut who took part in #myvoicemyschool,November 2014. © UNRWA Archive

For many courageous students from Syria, education is a lifeline, and a source of stability, friendship, and learning.  MyVoiceMySchool, a pilot project developed by United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and Digital Explorer created positive change by giving these students an international voice and helping them with issues that directly affect them, particularly education.

Students at HaifaAl-Majdal School, Damascus, who took part in #myvoicemyschool, November 2014. ©UNRWA/Taghrid Mohammad
Students at Haifa Al-Majdal School, Damascus, who took part in #myvoicemyschool, November 2014. ©UNRWA/Taghrid Mohammad

#MyVoiceMySchool paired over 100 Palestine refugee students from UNRWA schools in Damascus (Syria), Beirut (Lebanon) and Irbid (Jordan) with peers in three schools in the UK using Skype’s educational platform, Skype in the Classroom. The pilot classroom project was built on UNRWA’s current education efforts in student-centered education. Classroom activities and group research projects helped students develop a range of skills in communication, ICT and literacy.

UNRWA teacher helps translate Myrn’s question to the class during last live Skype in the classroom exchange between Palestine refugee students in Irbid, Jordan and British students at Mossbourne School in London, November 2014. © UNRWA/Irina Prentice
UNRWA teacher helps translate Myrn’s question to the class during last live Skype in the classroom exchange between Palestine refugee students in Irbid, Jordan and British students at Mossbourne School in London, November 2014. © UNRWA/Irina Prentice

The students quickly found common ground in after-school activities, sport and homework – although Palestinian students tended to want more homework and the students from the UK wanted less! They also explored their assumptions about each other. Mustafa from London reflected that, “I never really knew that people in Beirut spoke English, I’ve been surprised how well you have been able to communicate”. And a student from Damascus echoed Mustafa’s impressions: “The most important thing for me was that they learned more about us. Maybe they had an idea that we are undeveloped, but now it is clarified that we are not and we are the opposite”.

The ideas arising from their conversations planted seeds for classroom projects, which included school clean-ups, anti-bullying strategies and plans for extra-curricular activities. Invigorated by the interactions over Skype, the Palestine refugee students suggested improving the technology available to them, so they could keep in touch and continue to develop their ICT knowledge and skills.

Background information

#MyVoiceMySchool is a project created and implemented by UNRWA, Digital Explorer and Skype in the classroom. The purpose is to increase opportunities for students to find their voice, explore the themes of determinants for quality education, the relevance of student voice and the right to opinion and expression. The project is funded by UKAID, the EU and UNICEF, with monies dedicated to the Syrian Crisis.

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance and emergency assistance. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions.

Digital Explorer is an award-winning education social enterprise based in London. A pioneer in the development of innovative real-world learning programmes, Digital Explorer supports teachers and pupils in schools internationally to engage with and take action on critical global issues from cultural conflict to climate change.