When Muhammad Zulfadhli Bin Nor Azmi received the positive news that he has been granted a scholarship from Terengganu Foundation to pursue medicine at Jordan University of Science and Technology (JUST), he packed his bags in excitement, not knowing what to expect in his new student life half a world away in The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
Arriving in Irbid, the capital city of the Irbid Governorate in September 2013, it was difficult for Zulfadhli not to notice the influx of Syrian refugees displaced by the Syrian Civil War which began in 2011. Jordan is, after all, a neighbouring country, and Irbid is just a short drive from the border on the south of Syria. Due to this, Jordan is the third largest host country of both registered and unregistered Syrian refugees, totalling over 1.4 million people.
In Irbid, approximately 90km to the north of Amman, Syrian refugees are settled among local communities, rather than in camps like what is done in other host countries. As such, Zulfadhli had the opportunity to get to know them, and wondered more often than not how he can help them beyond merely in the financial sense.
“About two years later, word got around that ‘Teach For The Needs’, a non-governmental organisation based in Malaysia founded by Ishak Saufi, currently its Chief Executive Officer, is expanding its class for Syrian kids in Irbid, due to an increase in refugee children. Moreover, many of the earlier volunteers had graduated. Knowing that they needed more manpower, I met up with the initiators of TFTN for Syria: Hidayu Hatta, Anisah Othman, Salikiyah Idris and Liya Mazuwan. Although I have a heavy workload as a medical student at JUST, I believe that everyone should have an equal opportunity to education and it is not a privilege. So, this was a great opportunity for me to serve,” Zulfadhli said.
In Jordan, Syrian kids are encouraged to attend regular school during the evening after Jordanian children have finished their session. Despite what the kingdom is doing for them, many Syrian children are still far behind their Jordanian peers in literacy skills.
The school in Irbid, TFTN for Syria, is a rented 3-room apartment along University Street, just a stone’s throw away from Yarmouk University, which like JUST, also has a high enrolment of Malaysian students. The school is just a short walk from the community centre for Malaysian students.
Although there are fewer than ten core members, TFTN for Syria has close to twenty volunteers, made up of Malaysian students from both JUST and Yarmouk. The school also engages four teachers to assist with running the school in a more structured manner.
Recently, a delegation from Perak Media Sports and Welfare Club (KSKMP) visited the Syrian refugee children in Irbid, Jordan on a non-schooling day to check on their welfare and noted the expansion of TFTN for Syria over the past four years. It now caters to about sixty Syrian children, from 7 to 17 years old. Filling the gap of what is not available to these children in their Jordanian classes, TFTN for Syria has also established various clubs to enhance their skills.
Mondays are for Science; Tuesdays for Art. Theatre and Music are taught on Wednesdays while Thursdays are set aside for the weaker students. The weekend begins on Friday in Jordan. That’s when TFTN for Syria focuses on academics; namely mathematics, Arabic and English language. Meanwhile, Sundays are allocated for Al-Quran lessons.
The 22-year-old Zulfadhli, who is the treasurer of TFTN for Syria, heads the Science Club. His fellow committee member, secretary Muhammad Faisal Bin Abd. Ramlan, tutors the children Al-Quran. Faisal, 19, is an undergraduate at Yarmouk University, majoring in Arabic and its literature. Interacting with his pupils, he takes it as an opportunity to brush up on his own Arabic. “Even though I learnt the language since primary school in Malaysia, communicating with these awesome kids, I can actually improvise my Arabic speaking skills. As you can see, it is a win-win situation to volunteer. We all learn something,” the Kedahan said.
It has only been eight months since volunteering but Faisal has already developed a soft spot for his pupils: “I hope they will grow up with good character traits, like how we are guiding them. Hopefully, when the time comes, they can also contribute towards society.”
According to Faisal, the school requires about JOD700 (JOD1 = MYR6.05) monthly to administer, including rental, utilities, and salaries for the four teachers. In addition, funds are also required to buy basic necessities for the children’s learning programme, such as stationery, notebooks, reading books and colouring sets.
“We are also looking for volunteers and welcome anyone who has skills or knowledge to share with the children and to enrich their lives to overcome their circumstances. If one can do something to improve these children’s lives, why not? Of course, we are also open to financial support and sponsorship. Those who would like to keep informed of our school activities may do so via our Facebook page: TFTN for Syria,” Faisal added.
Note: An edited version of this article [Doing it for children] was published on 19th August 2017 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.