When she left home, she was 6 years old. When she arrived in her new home, she was 11.
Rania* left Iraq with her parents and younger brother on their long and sometimes dangerous journey to Europe. By the time the family reached Bosnia and Herzegovina, they had travelled across five borders. Today, the family lives in the Borići temporary reception centre, near the border with Croatia. They had hoped to move further on into Europe, but, for the time being, their journey has come to a standstill, and they are trying to carve out a new life where they are.
As the number of refugees and migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina increases, the proportion of children among them rises as well. In 2019, more than 8,000 children on the move were registered in the country. Around 3,000, including Rania and her friends, were included in education activities, whether formal or non-formal.
Rania, her best friend Zaida*, her brother Rahim* and other refugee and migrant children attend special preparatory classes, supported by the Government, UNICEF and Save the Children at the local elementary school, Prekounje, in Bihać. After being on the move for so long, Rania is excited about her education. “I like to go to school,” she says, as she gets ready for her lessons. “[A] few more days [of] preparatory classes, and next week I’ll be enrolled in regular classes with children from Bosnia.”
Rania’s parents are also aware of the importance of education, and encourage her to study hard. Despite her five-year journey, she has managed to complete five grades of elementary school. And during her stay in Greece, she also learned Greek.
At the preparatory lessons, children repeat the alphabet, playing with the words and letters and raising their hands as they take part in a word-guessing game.
“Children are children, with no exception,” says teacher Adriana. “Girls and boys who come to preparatory classes and then to regular classes – just like the rest of their peers – want to learn, play, to embrace the learning opportunity, and everyone who can help them is happy to do so.”
“I met Rania upon her arrival,” says Adriana. “She was in my group and, like the others, she started showing an interest in learning very quickly.”
“She loves school in general, she loves to play and is very sociable,” she adds.
Once they are registered at a temporary reception centre, every child of school age receives a medical examination, and is then enrolled in these preparatory classes. The lessons are based on the HEART (healing and education through the arts) methodology developed by Save the Children. To date, more than 120 teachers have been trained on inclusive education and teaching methodologies.
“This approach helps children feel safe in a new environment, helps them to develop confidence, and thus learn the language more easily, building a strong base for further learning and socialization,” the teacher explains.
In 2019, almost 4,500 children like Rania benefitted from such child-friendly spaces and youth corners in temporary reception centres. These spaces provide psychosocial support and recreational activities for children and adolescents on the move.
Cultural mediators accompany children on their way to and from school, assist children and teachers in schools, help children with their homework and studies at the temporary reception centres, and work with parents to strengthen their parenting and language skills. Most cultural mediators have close links to the countries of origin of children like Rania, or have lived there at some point in their lives. They are often motivated by their shared experience of being a refugee, or on the move, and a desire to help people from their own country of origin. Many have relatives from a Balkan country, which means they can speak Bosnian as well as the language of the country they – or their parents – originally came from. They are a crucial part of UNICEF’s Humanitarian Response programme for education, providing support for both children and teachers that enhances communication and learning.
Rania enjoys playing sports: “I like to play basketball and football,” she smiles. However, when asked what she wants to do with her life, she is very clear: “… in the future, I do not see myself in sports. When I grow up, I want to be a doctor; I want to help people.”
(Photo: UNICEF, Almir Panjeta)