At 51, Salwa* joins her 12-year-old daughter to learn the alphabet – the first time she does so since leaving school 45 years ago. Salwa had just completed the first month at school when she decided to quit. She went home and never went back again.

‘’I had a fever when I was little and it affected my speech. When I went to school, children laughed at my pronunciation. I was too embarrassed.’’ It was a decision she would later regret. Salwa had to rely on strangers to read road signs for her. Everywhere she went, she carried papers with her address.

"I would ask people to write and read for me. I had to cope with my illiteracy, relying on my memory. ‘’ Forty-five years after that day, Salwa is now in Save the Children’s classroom to learn the letters and numbers.

The decision to change came on a sodden winter morning.

"I started working as a cleaner in this school. One day it was cold and raining, so I stayed inside the classroom and listened to the teachers. When the class was over, I asked if I could always attend and they said yes. I started reading and writing with the children and my daughter. We learn together.’’

The new beginning has inspired a fresh outlook.

"I hope all people can learn, especially those who don’t read or write. I hope everyone can see the value of education. I want my daughter to be strong, to make up for what I have missed.‘’


Salwa lives in an informal settlement for Syrian refugees in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

The 51-years-old was hired as a cleaning assistant at Save the Children’s centre for Remedial Classes, supported by the German Corporation for International Cooperation, GIZ. This project supports children who require learning support and face difficulties with the changing curriculum and language of instruction, with the goal to enrol, re-enrol and keep children in school.

*Names changed for protection purposes.