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Disaster & Conflict

From Refugee to Top Student

A Syrian family is rebuilding their lives through education.

Doha’s family once had a good life in the Syrian capital of Damascus. They had their own bakery with several employees, and her mother, Nawal, had a well-paying job as a surgical nurse in the cardiac unit at the city's main hospital.

Turmoil in her home country have forced her family to flee to Egypt, where Plan International is helping them get through what has been an incredibly difficult five years by ensuring education as a top priority.

When war broke out in 2011, 12-year-old Doha and her two older brothers felt secure in the wealthy area where they lived. In the first year of the war, life continued as normal, until her eldest brother, Alaa, turned 18 and had to leave for the military.

After a short training course, Alaa was sent into battle like thousands of other young people in Syria. Service terms last for two years and two months.

Before the end of his national service, Nawal received a call from her son's phone. His friend told her that Alaa had been shot and killed near the border with Turkey. His body was never returned to the family and no explanation was given to them by the Syrian army.

Four months later, rebel forces attacked the city where the family lived. Doha and her mother were alone at home when the bombing raids started.

"I remember that we ran out the door and a moment later a bomb hit the house next door,” she said. “There was smoke everywhere and huge blasts and gunshots.”

Two days later, her father returned to their home to salvage some of the family's belongings. He was captured by rebel forces, who kept him hostage for nearly four weeks.

"They tortured him, gave him electric shocks and burnt him,” Nawal said. “We got him back again, but he has never been the same since.”

Three years ago, the family fled Syria. Today, they are living in a slum area in Alexandria, Egypt.

Mustafa, 21, supports the family by working in a bakery while studying at the university. He gets top marks and is the brightest student in his class, which has enabled him to secure scholarships to pay for his schooling.

With the support of Plan International, Doha also attends school. She has received textbooks, a school uniform, and a pencil case.

Her father is deeply traumatized by the torture and can only work for a few days at a time. The family lives on a few hundred dollars a month.

When Mustafa needs a new book for the university, the family fasts for several days to afford it.

"I dream of becoming a talented scientist or a doctor,” he said. “And when peace is restored, we will go back to Syria and help to build our country again.”

Up to half a million Syrians are living in Egypt. Most of them reside in the coastal city of Alexandria. Often three or four families will share one three-roomed apartment.

Plan International’s Emergency Fund supports the most vulnerable families with money for food and rent. Plan also provides psychological help for children and adults who have been left deeply traumatized by the war.

Plan International also supports schools so they can accommodate the many new Syrian children, including providing refugee children with scholarships, school uniforms, books, and writing materials.

Give to Plan’s Disaster Fund.

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