Multi-Faith and Belief Chaplaincy, For All Faiths and None

The Story of STTEPS (Syrian Teenager Tutoring and Educational Programme)

Details of Syrian Teenagers Tutoring and Education Programme.

The background story

Image of teenagers and student volunteers from the Syrian Teenagers Tutoring and Education Programme

Scotland has committed to resettle 2000 Syrian refugees as part of the UK government Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme by 2020.

Photograph of Friday tutoring session in the Chaplaincy centre.
Photograph of a Friday tutoring session in the Chaplaincy centre.

Of the newly arrived Syrian refugees over the course of the last 5 years, there are over 450 individuals resettled in Edinburgh that have come from refugee camps in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. Amongst them, a group of 36 individuals are teenagers (12-18 years old). This group has had to endure severe hardships before arriving in Scotland. Many of them were denied education due to the difficulty of accessing educational facilities at the refugee camps. However, this group have shown themselves to be amazingly resilient when given educational support to help integrate them into a new educational system in Scotland with a new language.

Photograph of Syrian Teenager Tutoring and Education Programmes social trips

 STTEPS  (Syrian Teenage Tutoring  and Educational ProgramS)

Edinburgh University represented by the Chaplaincy and in co-operation with University student tutors and Dr Amer Masri from the Syrian Community in Edinburgh, launched a tutoring initiative that is first of its kind in Scotland and the UK. The initiative (composed of weekly two hour tutoring sessions)  is aimed  at supporting the teenage Syrian refugees in their school subjects.  The tutoring scheme’s goals are to help the newly arrived Syrian teenagers, with their English language skills, and with education in other subjects as well as social integration. Activities for the Syrian refugee tutoring scheme include practising English in conversation, studying written English and helping with homework in whatever subject the teenager brings to the session.  Furthermore, the scheme promotes school success, builds social connections with their tutors, encourages community engagement and helps the teenagers navigate adaptation to a new society.

Despite the difficulties of coping with transition issues, the tutoring scheme has achieved remarkable success for those who joined the scheme back in January 2017. The great commitment and effort of the tutors to provide age-appropriate language, literacy and homework help is reflected in higher marks being achieved at school.

The scheme has also focused on building confidence and self-esteem, organising social activities to reduce social isolation and nurture supportive friendships both between teenagers and the tutoring peers.

Volunteers and teenagers from the Syrian Teenagers Tutoring and Education Programme singing

During every Friday tutoring session, we become alert us to any difficulties with bullying or struggles that have occurred in the teenagers’ schools in Edinburgh. We have been able at times to go into schools, speaking or writing to guidance teachers or the Principal to offer our support to the school as well as to the teenagers and families. This mediation on behalf of a teenager who is struggling because of bullying can improve relationships for all concerned.

New Developments this Year

This year 2019 -2020, the numbers have increased yet again. We have had over 30 teenagers and a pool of over 50 tutors. Fortunately, we have been able to expand into another room in the Chaplaincy which was essential to the smooth working of the sessions. Fun trips have been organised on certain Saturdays, bowling, skating, trampolining, Deep Sea World. This year, Dr Amer Masri, initiated a Syrian teenager football team. Chaplaincy worked with Sport and Exercise and Widening Participation to secure regular sessions of football in the Pleasance facilities. Dr Amer Masri leads the training sessions and brings in tutors to help. We now have an enthusiastic football team further enhancing our goals of community building and fun.

One of our tutors, Jo Hill, who is very musical and worked in refugee camps in the Middle East, offered early on in the year to facilitate a session of singing at the end of our tutoring session on Fridays. It has been a source of laughter and harmony! Jo is gifted at putting the teenagers at ease and enabling song and we have had wonderful sounds coming echoing through the Chaplaincy rooms.

There is a sense of wellbeing that is felt when watching the tutors work in pairs developing relationships with the teenagers or seeing them singing happily or talking about the trips on Saturdays to see new places in Edinburgh or hearing about the football sessions.

Esti Zaid leading a training event for tutors event at The Chaplaincy centre

None of this would happen without the hard work of the tutors. The core group of organisers, Didi Binladen and Afraa Chohan with Amer worked on the pairings every week - a huge job!

Sohaib Ashraf buys the snacks every week and he with Alex Krabbendam make sure the sandwiches and drinks are  all prepared and ready every week.  We were glad to have weekly delicious Syrian sweets donated by a supporter of our work though Development and Alumni.

Esti Zaid, the student co-founder of the group, looked after the training session for the tutors which built up their tutoring confidence.


Winning the Social Responsibility and Sustainability Award for Community Partnership  - some of the tutoring group standing with the Principal

Winning the Social Responsibility and Sustainability Award for Community Partnership - the tutoring group with the Principal
Winning the Social Responsibility and Sustainability Award for Community Partnership - some of the tutoring group standing with the Principal
Photograph of Syrian teenagers receiving refurbished laptops

The winning of the SRS award for Community Partnership was a great encouragement as were the visits we had this year from Edinburgh City Council, who are involved with the new Syrian arrivals. They came to offer us support and tell us that they were sharing the news about our programme with the new Syrian families and encouraging the Syrian teenagers to join us.

A new development in terms of resources was the acquisition of 24 refurbished laptops from the Remakery. We heard about the scheme through Social Responsibility and Sustainability when receiving the award. The teenagers were delighted to receive this educational resource.

Dr Amer Masri and Associate Chaplain, Ali Newell, have found the project  over the years, working alongside such student dedication and giftedness, to be a really fruitful and privileged experience.

Our last trip was not possible because of lock down but we did manage to have a gathering in the museum just before it shut!

After lockdown, we continued to tutor on zoom and put the teenagers into breakout rooms in pairs. Didi was great at mastering the technology and setting it up!

With thanks to all who have supported this project.

STTEPS gathering at the national museum
Screenshot of tutors taking part in an online zoom call for STTEPS

Awards and recognition of STTEPS which has encouraged us all along the way

STTEPS volunteers with the Principal

Recently selected by Universities Scotland as an example of how university students cooperate with locals to support teenage refugees who need most help.

Sir William Darling Memorial Award 2018

Social Responsibility and Sustainability Community Partnership Award 2019

Video made by Communications and Marketing at the University

Article written by UNHCR


Article in Teaching Matters


Video: Interview for Refugee Week 2020 with STTEPS students and Syrian Teenagers.
Interview for Refugee Week 2020 with STTEPS students and Syrian Teenagers.