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UAE: This Yemeni expat helps refugee kids keep up in schools

In this five-part series, Khaleej Times features five humanitarian workers in the UAE who have helped change countless lives.

In a world of disasters, crises and strife, humanitarians create hope. Theirs are the hands that feed the hungry, comfort the weary, and help the helpless. Theirs are the hearts of gold that make a difference. And now, the UAE is honouring them with the Golden Visas. In this five-part series, Khaleej Times features five humanitarian workers who have helped change countless lives.

Opening a campus and donating backpacks, pencils and notebooks are not enough to get children to school. Some are scarred by memories of war, while others are burdened by issues at home. And so, Yemeni expat Shadia Al Jabri has made it a mission to guide these kids towards a bright future.

“Every child deserves an opportunity to study and work towards a better future. Our endeavour is to correct the course of life for such kids through our learning centre,” said Al Jabri, the director of Rawafed Development and Learning Centre, who has been hosting literacy programmes for the youth for over a decade.

Her work in the field of child and youth development has brought meaningful change to about a thousand lives.

Rawafed Development and Learning Centre (Rawafed DLC) works to empower and educate children in the age group of 8 to 18 years, who either could not afford a good education or had issues keeping pace with the mainstream schools.

Majority of these kids are from families who have been displaced from their countries because of conflicts or war.

“We are taking care of children who haven’t had access to any sort of formal education, or who had been through formal education and dropped out of the system because of various reasons. We rehabilitate them academically through our educational courses, where they learn how to read and write, etc.

“We bring them up to a level after which we either integrate them into mainstream schools where charities pay for their education. Or as they grow older, we put them in another programme where we prepare them for the job market.”

Out of a million children in the UAE, these kids might just be a few hundreds but they, too, deserve a better future, said Al Jabri.

“These are kids who are, say 12 years old, but haven’t been to school yet. They are illiterate. Then, there are kids who do not have learning support at home. They had been to school but dropped out.

“These are not kids from middle-class backgrounds. They are underprivileged kids and youth who have no hope or dreams. They come from homes where generations have been illiterate. So, even if they join a school through a charity, most of them are unable to cope with the schooling system, because the schooling system requires you to have a support system at home. So, they struggle and some of them drop out.”

Al Jabri’s centre makes sure they are supported in every aspect.

“We make sure that they get glasses if they have eye problems and that they go for health check-ups when they come to school. Education is offered free of charge. Whatever problems they go through, we always try and be there for them. So, it’s a very nurturing environment.”

Rawafed DLC is working in collaboration with the Big Heart Foundation in Sharjah and has small class sizes of 15 to 20 so that every child gets proper attention and care.

It also collaborates with various charities such as Dubai Care, Emirates Red Crescent to run literacy boot camps for children in the UAE.

In Egypt, Al Jabri runs a literacy programme for extremely poor children and her work has made a difference to over 2,500 children.

She was elated to hear that the UAE government has extended the honour of Golden Visa category to humanitarians. “Humanitarian workers are like hidden soldiers who make society a better place. This announcement didn’t surprise me; the UAE is such an amazing place. We have so much goodness around. Once you start doing good work there are so many who are always willing to help and support.”

Why her mission matters

Youth illiteracy is a challenge not only for individual lives but also for societies and countries.

In August 2019, Unicef estimated that two million children within Syria and 800,000 refugee children in host countries were out of school completely. Despite the heavy push for primary education, more than 75 per cent of Syrian refugee children drop out of school before reaching the secondary level, and that’s why the work of institutions such as Rawafed is significant.

“We have had quite a lot of success stories. A lot of children come to us saying you’ve changed our lives. It makes me really happy, when I see how they have managed to change their situation, and some of them are working. They’re working in stable jobs; they can read and write. Some of the kids want to go to university. They want to continue their education. You are talking about kids who had no aspiration in their lives, but they now have a purpose in life.”


Suneeti Ahuja Kohli

Suneeti Ahuja-Kohli has been in Dubai long enough to call it her spiritual home. She loves to travel but plans to settle down in Koi Samui, Thailand eventually to spend her sunset years by the sea. For now, she writes frequently on personal finance, retirement planning, business news and features, health and almost anything assigned by her editor. Her sojourns can be followed on instagram (suneetiahujakohli), news and views on Twitter @suneetiahuja, and for the rest, there’s a Facebook account.

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