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Education

This Refugee Is Using Free Online Education to Help Rebuild His Life — And Hopefully Syria, Too

Hadi Althib thought he wanted to be a dentist in Syria before the civil war broke out in his home country. But now he has other plans. 

Althib, 23, wants to build a movement of youth who will lead peace-building efforts in Syria after the war and he is using free education programs to reach his goal, he told TIME magazine

In 2015 Althib graduated from Damascus University in Syria with an undergraduate degree in dentistry. One year later, however, he was fleeing the country to escape military service, according to the report. 

After fleeing to Turkey, Althib settled on the border in Gaziantep and found a job as youth development manager. That new position led him to realize that dentistry was not where he wanted his future career to go. 

"My vision is to link and to help Syrian youth to lead the process of peace-building after the war,” he told TIME. “I want to continue working in Syria and rebuilding what is broken in Syria. I don’t want to be out of Syria."

Take Action: Tell World Leaders to Fund Education For All 

So now, Althib is planning and studying to be able to achieve his new career goals when the Syrian civil war finally comes to an end — uncertain as that date may be. 

Since education is so difficult to access as a refugee — it is, according the the United Nations Refugee Agency, one of the greatest challenges facing the world’s 65.5 million displaced people — he is struggling to gain the right skills to be able to lead. 

Refugees are five times more likely to be left out of school than the global average youth and fewer than one percent of refugees are enrolled in universities. 

Determined, Althib has spent a year and a half accessing pieces of the skills that he needed to move in the direction of his new vision through Coursera, a nonprofit that offers free education classes for refugees. Now, he’s taken classes like statistics and budgeting, he told TIME. He’s also enrolled to Kiron, a nonprofit program to help refugees enroll in higher education and working toward a bachelor’s degree. 

These are just some of many free online learning programs that refugees can access remotely. 

Global Citizen and our partner CHIME FOR CHANGE recently hosted a hackathon where developers spent hours creating ideas for how refugee girls can access education and health tools. And companies like HP also offer free learning programs for a range of technical skills.

But others argue that remote classes here and there are not enough to meet the education and career needs of today’s refugees. 

"These piecemeal credits are incredibly valuable in providing a refugee with the opportunity to engage in the kind of learning they’re seeking," Sarah Dryden-Peterson, associate professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, said. “But equally important is the full degree that can signify they’ve reached that benchmark."

And frameworks to build a more sustainable education system in conflict zones and developing countries do exist. The Global Partnership for Education, the world’s only fund to prioritize education for developing countries, aims to bring access to quality education for all, but will need to fill a $3 billion funding gap by 2020 to accomplish that goal. 

Until that funding is met, refugees like Althib may need to pursue education and career skills through their own ingenuity. 

Althib currently remains in Turkey, where he is the regional coordinator for #MeWeSyria, a program of Ashoka's Youth Venture, that uses storytelling to enhance emotional and social learning for refugee children. He also works with the consulting agency Giz, where he advises on projects to protect and enrich the lives of refugee children in Turkey who are living on the street.  

As for school, Althib continues to take free online classes at multiple universities through Kiron to work toward a Bachelor’s degree in social psychology and hopes to study non-violent communication and education. These programs, he hopes, can help prepare him to motivate youth to rebuild Syria one day.