Small victory amidst crisis: Syrian children complete another successful school yearPublished: Jul 1, 2021 Reading time: 6 minutes
Faida’s eyes looked up to meet ours and before we knew what was happening, from within her small frame a melody arose:
Dear Children of the world
Sing with us for our childhood
With your happiness and ours we can bring glory to the world
We are from the country of freedom and talking to you from Syria
And we call the elders, our future is in your hands
Please don’t forget us and protect us
So we grow as a green branch
As a small seed that blooms a whole field
And our world become bigger
Oh, dear children of the world
Faida recites a famous song in the Middle East from the 1990s, addressed to the children of the world. Nearly 30 years later and the words still ring true today.
Nine years old from Idleb, Faida has dreams of being an astronaut. “I love the planet Neptune and I dream of visiting and exploring it one day,” she said. “My father told me it is impossible for us in this country to be astronauts and that is why I want to be a pediatrician.”
“Faida is really distinguished,” her Math teacher, Souad said. “She is brave, inquisitive and intelligent. I noticed she has a unique skill in drawing and loves painting. Her father always comes to school to see her progress and how she and her brother are doing. With the distance learning he and his wife are following up and helping their children at every stage.”
When schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, education systems switched to remote, online learning. PIN supported thousands of students and teachers across northern Syria adapt to this new reality with a methodology implemented through smart phone applications, self-learning materials, teacher trainings and internet provision for teachers.
“I go to school three days a week and we continue the rest over the phone,” Faida said. This year schools are implementing a “blended methodology” of both in-person and distance learning. “We are going only three days because of COVID-19 which is a very dangerous virus that harms the lungs and can cause death.”
Abdul-Razak, 7, taking a photo of his homework and sending it to his teacher as a part of a blended methodology of part-time in-person learning and part-time at-home learning.
“When we started the distance learning last year it was very difficult: It was a totally new experience for students, teachers and parents alike,” said Souad. “Most families had two or more children at school and only one mobile phone for the mother. This meant they had difficulty sharing given the need to access and send videos and photos.”
“Coming to school is much better as they can learn directly, with no need to look at a screen,” said Souad. “They also can meet friends and socialize, although we do remind them not to interact too closely because of the virus. For us, even the basic eye contact in the class environment can really help encourage and motivate the children.”
And yet, Souad said, “The main challenge for us is always coping with airstrikes and shelling. We always have to be very cautious and take the protective measures in order not harm any child.”
Souad knows this reality of violence intimately. In 2012, there was a massacre in her hometown and she had to flee, despite being pregnant. Her husband paid hundreds of dollars to pass the checkpoints to the north. They crossed over to Turkey but at the time it was summer, and schools were not in session. “We were unable to find any jobs although we stayed there for three months. We spent everything we had saved at that time,” she said.
“Then, we returned to the eastern countryside of Aleppo, where life was cheaper than Turkey.” Souad and her family stayed there for nearly two years, but eventually the airstrikes and shelling became too much to bare and they were forced to flee again.
In 2015, they managed to escape to the countryside of Idleb, where she and her husband still reside. They had to leave everything behind, and it took time for them to find security again living in displacement. “Three months after we arrived, People in Need (PIN) started supporting the nearby school and I was employed to teach maths. I started to feel more stable,” Souad said.
With funds from The European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI), PIN is supporting eight, pre-existing formal schools and two newly established temporary learning centres across northern Syria with teacher incentives, furniture, and teaching and learning materials. Teachers also receive trainings on psychosocial support (PSS), first aid, Teachers in Crisis Contexts (TiCC) and other useful topics, such as distance teaching techniques.
At another school in the northern countryside of Idleb, is first-grade teacher Tarek. Since the start of the war, he moved around a lot fleeing violence and spent some time teaching in camps for internally displaced persons. In 2019, Tarek was working at a PIN-supported school in the southern countryside of Idleb when it was struck by a mortar shell. Despite classrooms left in pieces, the wherewithal of the community was left undeterred. With ENI funds, PIN rehabilitated the school which Tarek currently works in today.
Bombing and shelling is unfortunately such a norm for the people in his community that they always bounce back quickly. When part of this school was destroyed, classes were out of session only for a day as community members saved a lot of furniture and made a makeshift classroom elsewhere. However for Tarek, there are many other challenges involved in being a teacher in Syria.
“Sometimes the students join school two months after school classes start due to displacement and insecurity,” he explained. “It is very difficult for both the teacher and the student.”
Teacher Tarek giving an Arabic lesson to his classroom of first-graders through an old light projector PIN donated to his school.
“Furthermore, these displacement waves leave us with huge numbers of students at all schools. Now in our school we have five classes of only first graders, which is a very big number for a small village. Only a quarter of the students are from the village itself. The remainder are displaced and living here with their families. In addition to all these difficulties,” Tarek said, “many parents are not always keen on teaching their children and following their progress due to financial pressures as they are mostly busy doing something for income.”
“I want to stay in our home and village and not feel afraid,” said Faida about her hopes for the near future. “I was very sad when we left our home last winter, there was heavy shelling and many airstrikes. I did not like staying with others in their home, it is very embarrassing.”
Bombing. Shelling. Displacement. Income insecurity. COVID-19. For 10 years, children and educators have been jumping over hurdles to prevent a ‘Lost Generation’ of Syrian children. The resilience and dedication to the importance of education is a marvel. “I love teaching,” said Tarek passionately. “Teaching these kids is our responsibility. These children will be the youth of the future.”