Update from the Ground: Our Karam Scholars

Since the start of the Karam Scholars program 2 years ago, I’ve had the wonderful experience of working with university aged students in Jordan and Turkey. I’ve heard about their triumphs and their tears. Some of these reminded me of my own struggles and success in college. The experience is pretty universal, after all. Others, however, highlighted the difficulties of being a Syrian refugee university student.

“If it wasn’t for this scholarship, I wouldn’t be going to college,” Marah told me during my last trip to Jordan. Marah is a 19-year old from Dara’a, Syria. In 2013, she and her family were displaced to Jordan. A pharmacy student, you can tell how passionate she is about her field of study by the Bowl of Hygieia necklace that she wears. Rawabi, a pharmacy student from Homs who has made honor roll almost every semester, voiced her agreement.  

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Jordan is an expensive country, especially for the refugee population, 86% of whom live below the poverty line, who are largely unable to access legal employment due to restrictions. For many families, paying tuition is just impossible. Our support to students in Jordan ensures that these students are not only able to complete their studies on time, but that their families are not going into debt to send them to school and that the girls are not being married off as a solution to their family’s difficulty in supporting them.

These thoughts weighed heavy on me as I traveled to Turkey a few days later. I knew that the struggles for Syrian students in Turkey were different: while students still have to bear the costs of living, they also have the added burden of education being in Turkish or English, languages which many students are not exposed to before they enroll in university.

Reema, studying translation in Istanbul, suffered several setbacks trying to enroll in university. In Syria, she had one semester left before she was set to graduate. However, in Turkey, she was accepted as a transfer student on one condition: that she complete a year of Turkish language training and enroll as a sophomore. Karam’s vital support ensured that she has time to care for three children and go to school, without having to worry about earning an income for her family.

At Karam House, I met with high school students. The high school students were full of life, and have huge dreams. Almost all are enrolled in the Turkish and English language courses offered at Karam House, and are planning the way they could achieve their dreams of becoming pilots, interior designers, journalists, and doctors.The scholarships that allow them to enroll in language courses and take college entrance exams are crucial in helping them achieve their goals.

For Ali, a 19 year old student, this support extends beyond just the monetary. Ali lost the fingers on his right hand following an accident in the factory where he was working. After his family was displaced from Damascus to Turkey, he and his brother had to work in order to support their family. Karam’s support in pulling him out of child labour, through the SSRF program, and getting him back on track to continue his education, have changed his life. “I’m going to be a doctor,” he told me, with a huge grin.