Learn to Live: I want the world to know about children like me

Haya, originally from Syria, told the UN about what more needs to be done to help refugee children like her fight for their own rights

Naomi Ackerman,Maya Yagoda
Friday 28 September 2018 16:16 BST
Learn to Live campaign connects refugee teenager with Hornsey Girls school in London

An “inspirational” Syrian child refugee who helped launch The Independent and The Evening Standard’s Learn to Live campaign spoke on Friday at the United Nations.

Haya, 16, fled a war-torn rebel-held region in Syria as the civil war began in 2011.

The then-11-year-old had to walk through the desert to the Jordanian border with her family, holding just the bags they could carry and leaving a whole life in Daraa behind.

Haya was chosen by London-based charity War Child to speak at a child-led Day of General Discussion on child human rights at the UN headquarters in Geneva. She shared the experience live with her new London friends.

It was the first time the teenager, who has spent the past six years living in a caravan home in the huge, dusty Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian desert, miles from the Syrian border, ever flew on a plane – or caught more than a glimpse of a metropolitan city.

Haya is one of the first children affected by conflict, from those in Jordan to Iraq and the Central African Republic, linked up with four London schools through our Learn to Live campaign.

The project aims to increase understanding between pupils of all backgrounds.

Haya’s War Child-run education programme in Zaatari, led by Jordanian Hatem, 26, who accompanied Haya to the UN and translated for her, have carried out their own projects in Zaatari, reporting and documenting the child labour catastrophe and lack of education opportunities they see around them daily.

After wandering around the new city in the favourite headscarf she wears in Zaatari, Haya put on her smartest clothes and addressed a panel with top UN officials, where she raised her opinions about what more needs to be done to help refugee children like her group fight for their own rights.

She spoke alongside a young Colombian refugee, and met child activists from all over the world – she had previously only ever met one or two people not from her own background.

Haya takes a selfie in Geneva
Haya takes a selfie in Geneva

She told The Independent: “I want them [the UN] to know about people in the camp and about how they are living, and also about what we can do. If someone comes from Europe to Zaatari for a few days and comes back and tells what they see, it is not the same [as me telling them]. It is a step forward.”

Haya has been sharing her experience with friends and family in the camp, sending WhatsApp photos of every new sight, recording noises in the streets and taking selfies to send back to the camp – where they have already been shared around the whole community.

She said: “I still can’t believe I am here.

“When I got to Amman I knew I wasn’t in the camp, but from what I saw I knew I belonged. But coming here it’s totally different. The buildings and the people.

“My mum and dad were very supportive, my mum said: ‘Take care of yourself and enjoy.’ I was confident – I said, don’t worry about me. They never left Syria before going to Jordan.

“My brother has taken screenshots of the pictures I’ve sent and is sending them to everyone.

Sadiq Khan calls on all Londoners to get behind Learn to Live campaign

“I will go back to the camp and tell them about this different world.

“This experience has opened up my world.

“I am so happy to meet all these different people, and now I want to talk with everyone about their culture and their backgrounds and find out lot about them.”

Haya and her classmates have already started this process, by sharing messages and creating an art project with Hornsey School for Girls in north London.

Over a Skype session she shared her latest UN experiences with her London peers, explaining the struggles of life in Zaatari, and they all laugh together about their life ambitions and where they hang out with friends.

Haya said: “It was good to tell them about my life. I enjoyed it and would like to talk more. It will be good to learn more about their whole lives.”

Haya met Michael Copeland, global co-ordinator at the UN children’s fund, who said he was positive about the work being done through War Child and the campaign.

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