ADANA: Like many students of her age, 16-year-old refugee Fatmeh dreams of becoming a doctor. And a modest monthly sum of less than 10 euros could make all the difference.
Originally from the Syrian city of Aleppo, the teenager has been living in Adana in southern Turkey for six years with her father and three small brothers.
To help feed the family, the father sells Syrian pastries that she helps make at home.
“I missed the first term of school to help my dad look after my three little brothers and prepare the pastries,” she told AFP between classes at public school in Adana.
Fatmeh is one of 460,000 refugees in Turkey — most of them Syrian — whose family benefits from monthly supplements aimed at keeping school-age children in class rather than out working.
The money — 35-50 Turkish lira for boys, and 40-60 lira for girls ($6-$11/5-9 euros) — is part of the Conditional Cash Transfer for Education program, funded by international sources like the European Union and managed by the UN children’s fund UNICEF, the Red Cross and the Turkish authorities.
If the sums seem meager, it can be a boon for poor Syrian families who often live on basic aid and informal work, especially those with several school-age children.
The amount is similar to that given to Turkish families by the social services so as to avoid complaints that Syrian refugees get preferential treatment, says Mathias Eick, a spokesman for the EU’s humanitarian operations.
“We’ve assigned €86 million to the program to date,” he told AFP.
Turkey is home to around 3.5 million Syrian refugees, and most of those benefitting from the program are Syrian.
According to UNICEF data, around 600,000 school-age Syrian children are in education in Turkey while another 400,000 are not.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands of students who have officially signed up for classes end up skipping school to work and help their families survive.
At Fatmeh’s school in Adana, teachers listed absent students and contacted their parents to persuade them to let their children return, with the program as an incentive.
“The teachers in school were able to persuade my father by explaining how the aid could help,” she said. “It wasn’t hard because he always pushed me to go to school, but it was me who helped out in the house.”
Twelve-year-old Moussab, also from Aleppo, found himself back at school three weeks ago after missing the first term.
“We needed the money so I skipped school to work in a tailor’s workshop. I earned 500 lira a month,” he said.
Reem Zeidane, one of the school’s administrators, said last month they managed to bring back 45 of the 150 children who were absent from classes.
“This payment makes a big difference for the families, especially those who have four or five children,” Zeidane said.
Turkish authorities and UNICEF have also set up a “non-formal” education program, including Turkish courses, for refugee children and adolescents who have not attended school for at least three years.
As part of this program, 13-year-old Ali takes Turkish lessons every morning in a youth center in Adana. In the afternoon, he works in a car workshop for a monthly salary of 400 lira.
Ali’s father, Hamza, is unemployed after two accidents at work, and his mother is ill. With four sisters, three of them in school, he is the main breadwinner.
“If one day our situation improves, I’ll quit work and sign up for school,” he said.