Amena used to spend her days watching helicopters drop “barrel” bombs from the sky. Getting back to the normal teenage anxieties about English classes and university scholarships came as a welcome relief.
“I used to wake up and sleep to the barrels. It was torture. I’d hear it coming from the sky and didn’t know if it was coming for me or my neighbours,” says the 18-year-old from Syria’s besieged city of Aleppo, who fled to safety in neighbouring Turkey. She lives in poverty now, she says, “But I don’t care how hard it is. There’s hope.”
Hope for Amena is the daily English class she now takes for free at the Reyhanli Youth Centre, an organisation supported by this year’s FT charity appeal partner, the International Rescue Committee. The centre helps around 400 teenage visitors a day; its services including helping them find work and social activities, psychological support and language classes: the tools the young people need to complete their education.
Millions of young children are missing out on their education because of the war in Syria but high-school and university students are also suffering because of the lack of opportunities. Rami al-Trabulsi, who runs the centre, helps his devoted followers organise everything from Turkish language courses to improvisational comedy clubs. “The idea is to help people study and live their lives so they don’t turn to the uglier things,” he says.
With dwindling opportunities, Syria’s youth risk falling into drugs, armed groups or smuggling. “My goal is to give hope to people who are grappling with a huge level of desperation,” Mr Trabulsi says.
Despite its local popularity, funding has dried up for the Reyhanli Youth Centre, the IRC says. Donors often prefer to give more tangible and immediate aid, like blankets and tents. Some overlook the long-term benefits of projects like a youth centre.
But for students like Amena, the Reyhanli Youth Centre is a lifeline. The old house in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli, revived by Mr Trabulsi with a bright coat of paint, echoes with laughter.
“I feel like I could be in university. But I know it’s not,” she says. For Syrian young people like Amena, classes at the Reyhanli centre help build the skills and language abilities they need to eventually get scholarships abroad. “That’s why I’m happy when I’m here,” she says. “I’m taking my life back.”
To read all the FT’s seasonal appeal stories, and to donate, go to ft.com/seasonalappeal. Throughout the seasonal appeal donations are being matched by the UK government, with all match funding going towards the IRC’s work with Syrian refugees