* **He spoke with Syria Deeply about the systematic destruction of the schools in this battered corner of the city. *
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This fall marks the start of the third school year since the beginning of the Syrian revolution. Throughout the country, and particularly in Homs, a generation of children has been denied access to an education. The siege of Homs that started on June 9 of last year did not only affect the fighters, but also the families, children and elderly in these 14 neighborhoods.
The school where I spent my childhood is now, like many others, a pile of rubble. The sound of the school bell, which once announced recess or the end of a school day, has been replaced with the sound of glass breaking. Childhood memories that were once etched on schools’ chairs and chalkboards are now mere nostalgia.
There are 37 schools and educational centers in besieged Homs, and mortar shelling and rockets have targeted all. When Homs first came under attack, these schools became second homes for the people who fled to their strong walls for shelter. But these schools and the rest of the governmental buildings have been destroyed; the regime feared the rebels would set up camp there.
They were being used as shelters for the displaced when they were leveled by bombardments.
Generations Under Siege
I was set to finish the last year of my master’s degree during the first three months of the revolution. Then everything changed; it was impossible to go to university after I was blacklisted for partaking in the protests. After two and a half years, here I am: under siege and without my master’s degree.
Dozens of able young men quit their education and joined the ranks of the rebels, only to end up under siege. Two medical students now work in the field hospitals in besieged Homs. It was never their wish to quit their studies before finishing their degree.
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Yamen was a third-year English literature student. He joined the rebels’ ranks because, as he said, “Brother, who will protect my house? How can a degree help me if I spend my time being scared of detention or having to travel abroad?”
Children here can now tell the make and caliber of guns used simply by hearing the shots. The school buildings themselves were historical landmarks.
Um Khaled lives under siege with her two children. One is 10 and the other is eight. “I don’t know how these kids will go back to school after these two years and after they’ve forgotten the alphabet and writing,” she said.
A group of local intellectuals and education experts tried to set up centers to educate children under siege. But it was too dangerous to transport the children and place them in one location that could be shelled at any moment.
Even outside the besieged areas, neighborhoods occupied by militias loyal to the regime have been emptied of their residents. Fourteen schools in the districts of Bab Sabaa, Bayda, Sabeel, Qusour, Khalidiyeh, Bab Houd, Jib al-Jandali and Ashira have been turned into barracks by rebel militias to tighten the noose on the besieged areas.
Neighborhoods without a rebel presence are relatively safe, but their schools have become shelters for tens of thousands of internally displaced Syrians. Some schools have been reopened after the refugees living there were requested to leave the school.
While the U.S. toyed with the idea of a strike, the Syrian government stationed the bulk of its forces in civilian areas to ensure its army would not suffer direct blows [if it strikes, it is thought that the U.S. would take precaution not to hit civilian areas]. Regime forces turned Baath University student dorms into gathering points and stored their heavy artillery there. Several schools in pro-regime neighborhoods were turned into dormitories for soldiers.
Nine out of 10 Homs Children Denied Education
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According to a survey conducted by activists in each district of Homs, only 10 percent of schools are still functioning. Even students at the university and advanced academic level think twice before going back to school. Students having to go through dangerous checkpoints to get to university often have to pay the shabiha lots of money to pass.
Many Homs residents have fled their homes, their city, or even crossed international borders. Their education suffered severely as a consequence, with only a few able to flee with their ID papers. Those lacking identification face a difficult time enrolling in schools abroad, not to mention hefty fees, which is often the biggest obstacle in a pricey host country like Lebanon.
Aboudi is a geography student from the Al-Waer neighborhood. He too quit school. “Going to university is a harrowing experience. Any checkpoint could detain you. Their charges are ready; they don’t need any real reason,” he said. “It’s enough that you are from a neighborhood that is against the regime.”
This article was translated from Arabic by Naziha Baassiri.