January 21, 2016

Higher education opportunities for Syrians yield praiseworthy results

Located in the very south of Turkey, close to the Syrian border, is Gaziantep, Turkey’s 6th largest city. Historically Gaziantep is famous for its rich cultural history and delicious cuisine; however the conflict in Syria has shifted a spotlight onto Gaziantep’s role as host to over 400,000 Syrian Refugees.

Such a huge number can serve to homogenise the diversity of these people, turning them from individuals to the singular category of ‘Refugees’. In its capacity as a higher education provider, SPARK works closely with Syrian students in Gaziantep and learns both of and from their individual stories and successes.

One such character whose achievements stood out to SPARK is former student Aws Orabi. Like many other Syrians, Aws found himself displaced to Turkey by the conflict in Syria, and he became one of 46 Syrians who enrolled onto the Conflict Sensitive Project Cycle Management (CS PCM) Course. SPARK developed this 10 week vocational training programme, in collaboration with Gaziantep University, to increase the number of skilled Syrian practitioners capable of responding to the emergency reconstruction, development, and recovery needs of Syria’s devastated economic sectors.

Reflecting back on his participation in the CS PCM course, Aws said: “I really benefited from all the modules in the course, especially the logic frame matrix, the needs assessment, and the key to writing a food proposal in English.” The course sought to reflect the internationalisation of the conflict, and the subsequent necessity for Syrian practitioners to develop their English language skills. The programme was delivered in a blend of English and Arabic, supplemented by English language courses customised for CS PCM. This allowed participants to improve their communication skills and increase opportunities to find work with international NGO’s responding to the Syrian crisis.

If at first you don’t succeed…

The CS PCM’s main focus was the primary sector, with a particular emphasis on agriculture, to develop the managerial and technical skills of students. This provided them with the basic tools necessary to analyse critical needs and design and implement corresponding early reconstruction projects. Before joining the CS PCM course, Aws submitted an unsuccessful project proposal to the UN: “[it failed] because I didn’t have any prior experience in this field, it just wasn’t very professional” he says. At the end of the course, students worked in groups to develop proposals for humanitarian projects in Syria covering critical issues such as food insecurity, education and water, sanitation and hygiene. Aws and some fellow students worked on his project proposal, re-submitting it to the UN a week after the course ended. “The UN was amazed by the development of the project and has approved the [$150,000 USD] grant” explains Aws, adding: “honestly, without the experience I gained from this course, I don’t think we would have been able to secure funding for the project”.


What next?

Aws is now employed in the public relations department of SDI, a Syrian NGO which works in health, nutrition, food security and livelihoods (FSL) by providing humanitarian aid to besieged areas within Syria. “We implement a lot of projects in different areas across Syria and the CS PCM helped me to develop my abilities in project design and proposal writing especially” says Aws, “Basically my job is to write proposals and sometimes design the projects, and to liaise with other organisations and donors, presenting our projects proposals to obtain funding or partnerships. I also attend the UN OCHA’s (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’) coordination meetings”. It is Aws’ responsibility to ensure his NGO’s partnership with other national and international organisations results in effective and coordinated humanitarian action.

The implementation of Aws project will begin in March in Ghouta, an area near Damascus, which has been besieged for several years resulting in residents facing severe food insecurity. His project aims to tackle this by constructing fresh fruit and vegetables gardens for residents, and over 800 households are forecasted to benefit from the initiative.

Since 2015 SPARK has collaborated with Gaziantep University to offer Syrian refugees with educational opportunities. “The CS PCM course is part of a wide range of vocational higher education courses that SPARK offers to Syrian refugees in Turkey” says Daphne Mulder, SPARK’s Higher Education Project Officer in Gaziantep. Of the 46 Syrian students who enrolled onto the CS PCM course, 38 successfully completed the course and mastered skills such as budget planning, problem analysis techniques and monitoring and evaluating tools.


More information on the garden project can be found here: FaceBook://sdiorg

With special thanks to the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs who sponsored this course.