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The Middle East @ Work

Refugees in Jordan’s schools

Alisa Roth Mar 7, 2008
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Scott Jagow: This morning, I’m on the campus of the American University in Cairo. Tuition for Americans is around $33,000 a year. About the same as high-end private schools in the states.

All this week, we’ve spent time with an Iraqi family in Amman. They dream about sending their children to school in U.S.. But in Jordan, their three kids weren’t allowed to attend school until recently. Alisa Roth has the last part of her series.


Alisa Roth: Ayssir was horrified when she went to enroll her children in school. At that time, Iraqi students weren’t allowed to attend public schools in Jordan. But Ayssir didn’t know that.

Ayssir: And I thought, I brought their papers and documents through all the bombs and the explosions, but then they tell me that I cannot enter them into school, and I went crying. I have no money.

The officials told her she could enroll the kids in private school. But she can barely pay the rent most months, so it’s not as though there was extra money lying around.

Ayssir went in search of a loan. But she got lucky when an international aid organization offered to pick up the tab. Now, all three are in the same school, a half hour walk from home.

The oldest, Weesnaa, is 14. She takes:

Weesnaa (voice of interpreter): Math, Arabic, science, English social studies, computer.

The school has boys and girls, unlike her school back home. And she says the teachers are supportive.

Weesnaa (voice of interpreter): Sometimes, the other students try to make fun of our accents. They pretend they can’t understand what we’re saying. But the teachers defend us, and they tell them they shouldn’t make us feel like we don’t belong here.

The same aid organization also arranged free programs during the summer and winter breaks, which all three kids loved.

The agency may keep paying tuition next year. But it may not. And the family won’t know for a few months yet.

Weesnaa and her siblings could also switch schools next year if they have to. The international community recently convinced Jordan to let Iraqi students go to public schools. But the schools are crowded, and they charge fees, too. And the family has a hard enough time scrounging money for school supplies and books.

Ayssir and her husband will do just about anything to make sure their kids get an education. As Ayssir explains, when her husband, Maher, got a call recently from an aid organization, he was hoping it would give him money for school supplies.

Ayssir: But when he went there, they told him that’s kind of, either blankets or a heater. He said I don’t want each of them, this is not my needs. If I take this, I might lose that they will give me some money. I need the money more.

So he left.

The family’s counting on being resettled soon. But Ayssir has plans for almost everything, if they do end up stuck in Jordan indefinitely: the family will keep their apartment because the rent is cheap and the landlord’s accommodating. Ayssir will try hard to get promoted at her job so she can get more money.

Ayssir: But I don’t know about school. This is something I don’t have plans for. This is what scared me, that my kids will not have education. I don’t know what to do about that.

So meanwhile, she’s encouraging her children to study hard.

In Amman, I’m Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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