Mercy Corps: Syrian Teenagers Motivated to Build a Better Future

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New report gives voice to the next generation; calls for focus on well-being, education and employment

At Mercy Corps youth centers in Lebanon, teenagers participate in art therapy, theater, rap, break-dance and poetry. Credit: Peter Biro for Mercy Corps

“We see incredible possibility in this generation of young people. Their future is not hopeless, and we can get them back on a path toward stability and peace. To get there, we must start today.”

As Syria enters a sixth year of devastating conflict, a generation of youth is reaching adulthood having spent their formative years in limbo, according to the global organization Mercy Corps. Nearly one in four of the 2.4 million Syrian refugees under the age of 18 is a teenager, and the multi-billion-dollar aid effort has largely overlooked this demographic. Mercy Corps is calling for major new investments in Syrian and other marginalized youth, whose decisions will shape a trajectory of either peace or continuing instability in the Middle East.

“The image I have of my homeland is one of deserted houses, shattered glass, ambulances roaming the streets all the time. People fighting for their lives,” says Sema, an 18-year-old Syrian refugee participating in a Mercy Corps community program in Turkey. “I do not want my future to be like my past. This is my main motivation: the need to exit this past and create a different, better future.”

Syrian adolescents face serious challenges around well-being, education and employment. Five years of prolonged stress have affected the development of their brains. Fifteen years of progress in education has been lost, with an estimated 700,000 Syrian refugee youth out of school. And there are countless barriers to safe and fairly compensated work.

“Teenagers are so overlooked that we can’t even say with certainty how many Syrian refugees are between 12- and 19-years old, or how much of the aid budget is spent on them,” says Neal Keny-Guyer, Chief Executive Officer of Mercy Corps.

Investments in stronger informal education can put young people back on track to re-enter formal education or prepare them for the job market with relevant professional skills. For example, Mercy Corps is modeling a new approach to informal education in southern Turkey, blending face-to-face instruction with digital education, as well as linking youth with local businesses and potential employers.

“We see incredible possibility in this generation of young people,” says Keny-Guyer. “Their future is not hopeless, and we can get them back on a path toward stability and peace. To get there, we must start today.”

To read the stories of Syrian refugee youth and Mercy Corps’ recommendations for the future, read or download the new report, “Age of Unrest: Syrian Refugee Youth at the Crossroads.”

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Lynn Hector
Mercy Corps
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Amy Fairbairn

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