San Luis province welcomes Syrian refugees and teaches sustainable development

Photo courtesy of Youtube ONU Argentina

Syrian refugees have been fleeing the dangers of the ongoing Syrian war into neighbouring countries and Europe, but some have crossed the Atlantic to San Luis, a city in the heart of Argentina.

This is due to an innovative educational method, inspired by governor Alberto Rodríguez Saá, which was created in line with the United Nations’ (UN) objectives to incentivise an innovative, inclusive and quality education, explained UN News.

The Escuelas Generativas, or Productive Schools are designed to allow students to practice tolerance and respect. The schools created a cartoon series called Juana y Pascual, of which each chapter touches on a different political theme. One  chapter is about two Syrian refugees who come to Argentina, which helps the Argentine children understand the predicament of new refugee children in their class.

“Between the children, they can tell the truth,” explained San Luis Minister of Education Natalia Spinuzza. “They can say that they’re not immigrants, they’re refugees, which is different. [They can explain] why they can’t live where they were born, why they had to escape their country, and they can socialise, as children.”

The schools are often free after-school clubs, in associations or institutions that allow students to learn diverse skills such as sport, dance and art, which allow the student to self-motivate themselves. They also centre their educative projects on the UN Sustainable Development Objectives, both in class, such as learning about climate change, and out of it, collecting plastic bottles to recycle and practising tolerance and respect with those around them.

“We are convinced that the best education that we can give is one that comes from the motivation of the child,” Spinuzza told ONU.org.arg. “This is why the Escuelas Generativas have been successful, they make the children want to go and they enjoy it. The spirit of the Escuelas Generativas is that they provide education for their whole life.”

San Luis Province has given assistance to 38 Syrian refugees and are soon to receive five more families, affirmed UN News. They all live on the La Punta city University campus, mingling with other students and citizens who have helped them integrate into Argentine society. There are currently 13 Escuelas Generativas and Spinuzza expects there to be 21 by the end of the year.

Liliana Scheines, the coordinator for the Refugee committee, explained that the programme started in December 2016.

“We started working on an international level to spread the message that in San Luis, refugees are welcome,” she told RFI. “What we provide is lodging, Spanish courses, schooling for children and help in finding a job.”

Lana and Majb, a couple from Damascus, were the first to arrive in the city that was thousands of miles from home and completely foreign to them.

“We came here fearful, nervous,” Lana explained. “But we quickly saw that it was a very good province to start a new life.”

“For me, there is a future here,” added Majb. “Inside, I feel Argentinian.”

Lana and Majb have helped to spread the word and have convinced other Syrian refugees to take a leap across the atlantic and join them in San Luis. The support provided and the innovative schooling is allowing Syrians to integrate and feel accepted and understood in a world where discrimination against refugees is rife. Thus far there has been no information as to whether Venezuelan refugees fleeing the economic crisis in their country would also be welcomed in the same way. 

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