Tent Schools International

Creativity and connection fuel healing for refugee kids in Jordan

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When asked what she thinks Principal Dawlat Hijazeen’s strengths are, TSI’s Rawan Haddad isn’t sure where to begin.

“She has so many gifts. She’s patient, she can listen and understand anyone. She’ll say to a student, ‘Show me what happened. Let’s sit and talk about it.’ She knows everything that happens under the school’s roof, and she keeps track of older students she used to see in elementary,” Haddad said. Then, with a smile, she added, “Dawlat wants her babies to do well.”

Haddad visits Tent Schools International (TSI) partners in the Middle East as part of her annual visits home to see her family in Amman, Jordan. This gives her an opportunity to observe each school’s daily routines. What stands out to Haddad at Good Shepherd Center is that student-teacher connections are a key to healing for displaced Iraqi children, the majority of the student population.

There’s a maternal connection between kids and teachers there,” Haddad said. “It’s like they’re home and feeling loved – warm in winter, cool in summer, never hungry. They have joy at school.”

Art therapy works for most children post-trauma who are struggling to communicate in a second language

Each student’s case is different at Good Shepherd Center. Staff meet the needs of single-parent families, children with disabilities, post-trauma situations, and sometimes abusive relationships at home. Haddad says staff are trained to handle each child’s case with a customized approach. Art therapy is one technique that works for most children, no matter their background or challenges.

“They don’t speak English or Arabic at first. Their first language is Assyrian or Chaldean, so they start to communicate with their teachers through drawings. They sketch out their feelings about what happened to them [in Iraq].” One teen girl told Haddad, “I express myself and can relax when I paint or draw. When I have no words, I put it into my drawing.”

Offering a deep understanding of math, Arabic and English 

Alongside art, Good Shepherd staff are intentional about ensuring students have a deep understanding of math concepts, Arabic and English, all key subjects that will help them thrive in Jordanian, Iraqi or English-speaking cultures; some Good Shepherd families have resettled in Switzerland and Australia over the last few years.

In order to teach the subject matter well, Principal Hijazeen must purchase quality curriculum, textbooks, and school supplies, a perennial challenge due to budget constraints. As a Christian outreach ministry, Good Shepherd is neither a public nor traditional private school. They are unable to receive public funding, but they also do not charge tuition from Iraqi families, an ISIS-displaced population that is barred from working in Jordan. Hijazeen avoids asking parents for anything she knows they have no ability to provide.

“[Private] Christian schools in Jordan sell books to their students,” said Haddad. “It’s $100 for one English book, which is not reachable for Good Shepherd, so Dawlat asked the private schools for their leftover books. She works hard to find these, but she needs more of them, plus workbooks. Sometimes she makes color copies, but that’s expensive, too.”

Growth despite challenges

Despite material challenges, Good Shepherd is still growing. Staff at the new secondary school walk alongside students as they reach those turbulent, in-between years as teens navigating who they are, what they want, and how they can serve in the world they see before them.

“Before secondary students were in school here, there was no future for them [as displaced people],” Haddad said, “They are very smart, perfect in English, and they are talented. They are attending the church and leading the worship. They love their classes. So how do we move forward? This is really important.”

Healing and the formation of dreams

As TSI supporters, you play a part in both student healing and the formation of dreams, whether this happens through art therapy, teacher-student connections, or their awareness that people on the other side of the world care about them. At Tent Schools International, we never underestimate the latter.

Our Light the Fire year-end campaign for 2023 will deliver safe schools to
displaced children in Jordan, Lebanon and Ukraine.

Good Shepherd Center in Amman, Jordan – 2023

"It's like they're home and feeling loved. They have joy at school."
- Rawan Haddad

Watch Mariam’s story, a girl with unique needs in Jordan.

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