Learners Creating Change

Led by its passionate and charismatic founder, Allaedin Janid, Happy Caravan supports the learning of hundreds of children from war torn Syria who are living in refugee camps in Thermopyles and Malakasa Greece. Learners Creating Change is my article about the International School of Prague‘s award winning partnership with Happy Caravan.

The butterfly effect: helping refugee children create a future | Alaeddin Janid | TEDxYouth@ISPrague

For years, ISP students, teachers and staff have worked closely with Happy Caravan on the ground and from afar to provide support to these amazing schools and their students. You can read the article below or through this link: International School Leader magazine.

For our students to take on true leadership roles, we adults, we educators, have a duty to support them in finding their purpose, and becoming positive change-makers in small and large ways.

Learners Creating Change
Happy Caravan Video

Alaedin Janid grew up in Aleppo, Syria. During his formative years, he journeyed from a world of privilege, to the relentless persecution, oppression, and brutality of the Assad regime. 

“I was born in Aleppo, the oldest city in the world. I was in a bubble. My father was rich. I grew up going to school and working in my father’s polyester factory in Aleppo.”

Alaedin Janid

As an activist Alaeddin joined forces with other young people in Aleppo to fight for democracy and human rights.

In 2011 [in Syria], there was the revolution. You start having all those amazing conversations with people, speaking about revolution and freedom, about democracy, about respect and human rights.

Alaeddin Janid, founder of Happy Caravan

The brutal treatment he and his comrades received at the hands of the Syrian regime forced Alaedin to reluctantly leave Syria. He became one of millions who fled their homeland to seek refuge abroad. His harrowing journey took him through Turkey and other countries until he finally gained refugee status and citizenship in the Netherlands.

Alaeddin to reluctantly leave Syria. He became one of millions who fled their homeland to seek refuge abroad. His harrowing journey took him through Turkey and other countries until he finally gained refugee status and citizenship in the Netherlands.

During his travels, Alaedin helped others in any way he could, ultimately channeling his compassion and activism into the establishment of two schools for refugee children called Happy Caravan, in Thermopylae and Malakasa, Greece. The Happy Caravan mission is simple and powerful: to make a tangible difference in the lives of refugee children by preparing them for a better future through nurturing their resilience, education, and creativity

The International School of Prague’s connection to Happy Caravan began in 2017 when one of our teachers, Nina Horakova, who had been working with Alaedin, proposed a long term partnership with Happy Caravan  to the  ISP Leadership Team . Since then,Upper School students and teachers have spent a week volunteering with refugee children in the two schools in Greece as part of our ‘Week Without Walls’ program. Teachers and support staff have also dedicated time during school breaks supporting Happy Caravan children and their volunteer teachers on site. The Happy Caravan partnership with ISP has now become a school wide endeavor and a source of great pride in the ISP community.

Not only do ISP students and teachers provide these deserving children help the situation in the refugee schools, we have found the entire ISP community has in turn greatly benefitted from our relationship. As is obvious from the following quotes, students have found the experience enlightening and transformative.

“When we were busy with the kids, trying to teach them things, you’re really in the zone and didn’t think about what was happening. I stood back and throughout the day I found myself tearing up because of the difference between us, it’s not as people, but the opportunities given to us. No one deserves being in a life like this. When they were in Syria and there was no war they were just like us .”

Lily
ISP Upper School Students working with Happy Caravan students

“I went on this trip to become a volunteer and help teach the refugee children English and Maths. But turns out, they did most of the teaching and I did most of the learning. Not only did we learn the skills needed to work with children of a traumatic past before departing but every moment I spent at the camp with the kids I learnt something.”

Vivi

I always thought they’d be different, traumatised kids. But they’re completely normal kids. They all have fun, they all laugh, they all scream, they all misbehave, they do all these things just like any other normal child.”

Alana
Upper School Student with Happy Caravan Student

When you’re there you think, it’s only a week. How much of an impact are you going to make? When we’re there we know a whole community is behind us and a whole community is supporting us towards this cause. 

Lily
Alaeddin sharing his story with Gr 4 ISP students at ISP

In line with ISP’s strategy, to “Create change that is bigger than we are,” ISP has provided not only financial and material support to this important endeavor, but has also worked to become an integral part of the Happy Caravan educational program, by sharing our professional expertise in curriculum and pedagogy. Sponsoring Happy Caravan visits to ISP helps the organizers to observe and learn from our approaches to teaching and learning. At the same time our entire community learns more about the refugee situation and is inspired to figure out ways to make a difference the lives of others from around the world. 

Alaeddin’s visit to ISP with student and teacher volunteers

In 2019, Alaeddin and his Happy Caravan colleagues came to ISP to participate in the ISP Refugee Awareness Week, speaking with students, teachers and parents. He also spoke about his harrowing journey from Syrian refugee to social action leader in this TEDxYouth@ISPrague talk delivered at ISP called, The butterfly effect: helping refugee children create a future

Alaeddin speaking at TEDxYouth@ISP

You can also read more about the partnership (interviews with Aladdin and ISP students) in my blog post, Happy Caravan and ISP: Creating Change That’s Bigger Than We Are!

Due to  the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of Happy Caravan schools during this time, it has been impossible for us to visit. Nonetheless, our commitment to the long term partnership is stronger than ever. For the time being there remains a strong online relationship between the two schools and most recently Alaeddin joined our staff virtually during a workshop.

In order for our students to take on true leadership roles, we adults, we educators, have a duty to support them in finding their purpose, and becoming positive change makers, in small and large ways. Programs such as the Happy Caravan-ISP partnership demonstrate that given the space and pathways to explore, “problem find” and seek guidance, young people can achieve remarkable things.

We are particularly proud and grateful that ISP’s partnership with Happy Caravan was recently recognized by the International Impact Award.  

Tips for nurturing learners who make a difference in the world:

  • Recognise the passion of teachers, staff and students as the prime drivers of a sustainable initiative;
  • Difference-making is core, not incidental, to student learning;
  • Develop a culture where students and teachers have the space to lead, take risks and follow their passions;
  • Commit school funding to signal the project’s importance and ensure sustainability;
  • Foster and invest in human connections and hands-on initiatives, as they are the most impactful;
  • Highlight and share your learning stories associated with the initiative;
  • Give the program sufficient time to grow, allowing it to find its place and take root firmly across the community.
ISP Students Painting a Mural at Happy Caravan
Happy Caravan Mural

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