Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria nine years ago, the UNICEF-supported youth cente in Jaramana, rural Damascus has helped young people cope with years of violence and displacement and restore a sense of normalcy to their lives.
Offering 17 types of courses, including languages, life skills and vocational training, the center encourages youth to reach their full potential in life, despite everything they have been through, thanks to a generous contribution from Germany. At the center, young people also take part in social initiatives that give them a way to pay back to their community.
"I dropped out of school in Grade 6 and since then I haven't done anything with my life," says Fatima, 17. "I will look for a job in a sewing workshop."
"Social initiatives are one of the cornerstones of the program," says Fadi, the center's director. "It allows youth to think of the collective good and encourages them to volunteer to better their communities by applying what they learn at the center."
With the recent global spread of COVID-19 and imposed lockdown across Syria, the youth center had to close its doors, but trainers continue to give lessons online, despite logistical challenges such as a poor internet connection.
"My mother works as a seamstress and taking this course has enabled me to work with her at home to improve our family's income," says 18-year-old Ahmad. "I have dreams to start my own sewing workshop one day."
A few weeks ago, as restrictions eased, the center reopened its doors while adhering to precautionary measures including daily sterilization of the center, a reduction in the number of trainees in the classroom, strict physical distancing and wearing masks.
To help their community face the risk of coronavirus, 25 young people who have taken part in sewing classes at the center are producing more than 5,000 masks to be distributed to children and families. The masks are made according to global standards and sterilized.
"I dropped out of school in Grade 8 and worked as a waiter in a small restaurant to support my family, but I felt like I wasn't going anywhere," says Majd, 17. "I believe that taking this course will open new doors for me, and it gives me a new purpose to be able to help my community."
"This initiative allows youth to practice what they learned during the courses and improve their skills while using them for the benefit of public health," says Khaldoun, who teaches one of the sewing courses.