Maharat ICT Centre

Maharat Centre empowers Syrian youth through vocational ICT training,  providing them with the tools and opportunities to make a better future for themselves and their communities.

The conflict in Syria has completely devastated the country's educational infrastructure and impoverished its people. Over 50% of the Syrian population is unemployed and 4 in 5 people are classified as living in poverty. What exists is a vicious cycle of unemployment, diminishing resources, and increased levels of poverty, forcing overwhelming number of Syrian into negative coping strategies. Missing meals, early marriage, begging, borrowing, and child labour are widespread. The young people of Syria have been disproportionately affected, with youth unemployment at 78%—a figure that is estimated to be significantly higher among young women. For young men and boys, poverty and the desperation to provide for their families and loved ones have been identified as key drivers pushing them into joining armed groups.

Trapped in severe poverty, parents and caregivers can no longer consider their children’s education a priority. Even those households able to keep children in school are faced with a decimated educational infrastructure that is overcapacity and under-resourced. Since the war began, the formal education system has lost over 150,000 personnel and one in three schools have been damaged, destroyed, or occupied. A third of Syrian children between the ages of 5 and 17 are out of school, and a further 1.35 million are at immediate risk of dropping out. Many of Syria's children have known nothing but war, and, for most young adults, higher education is completely inaccessible. Consequently, UN agencies, experts, and humanitarian organizations all warn of a “missing generation,” which poses serious negative ramifications for the overall resilience of the country and its future prospects.

Image Source: Human Rights Watch

The Syrian youth possess incredible talent and drive, but are in desperate need for opportunities to apply these in education and work. The Maharat ICT Centre was established in Syria in early 2016 to supply these opportunities. A Roia initiative, it was completed with the support of UKaid, Expertise France, and the Blossom Hill Foundation. The Centre offers comprehensive vocational courses in competitive ICT skills and English language to equal numbers of young men and women. They are provided with laptops and Internet access and taught such relevant skills as web design, application development, and business management. Taking this work a step further, the Centre matches students with local, regional, and global businesses to provide real work experience and employment opportunities.

The Syrian conflict, which has devastated the country since 2011, has placed barriers around the lives of young people. With the country's education infrastructure in ruins, rampant unemployment, and widespread poverty, there are few prospects for young people to make a living. Despite possessing enormous talent, young people struggle to provide for themselves and loved ones and are often forced to turn to negative coping strategies such as begging, theft, or even joining armed groups.

In partnership with UKaid and Expertise France, the Maharat Centre gives young Syrian men and women the opportunity to overcome the barriers imposed upon them by war. Students who attend the centre are trained in truly marketable skills and learn digital literacy, software development, IT infrastructure, web design, and English language skills. Roia arranges internships and distributes micro-grants for student-led initiatives to help put these newly acquired skills to work. Most importantly, students learn the tenets of entrepreneurship and are taught how to capitalize on the global ICT freelance economy, which offers a resilient income stream for embattled communities.

Complete with fully equipped computer labs and a qualified faculty, the Maharat Centre is a safe space for all students to pursue their futures; this includes vulnerable groups and women who are disproportionately affected by the conflict. Gender quotas and monthly allowances ensure that both young women and men can benefit from the program. This can be especially important for women facing frequent employment discrimination, as ICT work can be a powerful empowerment tool, allowing them to work independently.

The community impact of specialized training and income-generating opportunities can be profound. Operating under the Pareto principle, or “80/20 rule,” Maharat works with a relatively small number of youths, but does so with a focus on quality. Positive results with this group results in multiplied benefits across whole communities. For example, added income leads to increased consumer spending, which supports local business and livelihoods. The success stories of Maharat’s students inspire others, and empowered youths hire others to assist them with their freelancing projects.