As part of our effort to highlight civilian stories, below is a conversation between Syria Deeply and Mona, a college graduate from the Latakia countryside, who is spearheading an education initiative in her community. She lives in an opposition-controlled area where most schools and teaching centers have been destroyed.
Here, she talks about obstacles faced in bringing children back into schools in an area of the country where education, once mandatory, is now considered a luxury.
The clashes that took place between the rebels and regime forces left most buildings destroyed, including schools. The rebels took over the area last year, and with the influx of internally displaced families as well as the fleeing of most teachers to Turkey, it became almost impossible for students to receive any kind of education. To address this issue, the rebels established teaching centers for children and youth. Teaching there is limited to religion classes and some mathematics.
The instructors are high school graduates at best and aren’t trained as teachers. So I decided to reopen a school that wasn’t entirely destroyed. I publicized my initiative, which is to give our children an education similar to what they received before the conflict broke out. This was so they wouldn’t lose out while being taught some sporadic information unfit for today’s needs.
All I was thinking about was how to save a generation from the abyss, which they surely would find themselves in as a result of bad schooling and lack of information. When I announced my initiative, [the rebels in charge] objected, saying children can attend their teaching centers. After two weeks of negotiations, I was able to convince parents to put pressure to have their kids back in school. Thankfully, I was able to get the rebels’ approval.
In the beginning, it was very complicated. Qualified teachers are hard to come by. It was very difficult to convince teachers here and from nearby areas [to join in]. Sadly, all teachers here don’t get any salaries. They are all volunteers and some barely make ends meet. We tried to communicate with opposition forces in Turkey to financially support the school and the teachers, but we failed. People promise things, but we have yet to see anything materialize. Luckily, our teachers are high spirited and determined to see this through.
The Union of Free Teachers is providing us with notebooks and stationary. Donations also greatly help us provide the basics for our students as well as the school. As for books, I have a small printer at home, so I print out lessons for the students. Sometimes pairs of students have to share a notebook. It all depends on what we have.
Last year, we had classes for primary and middle school students. This year we have grade nine and high school students. They’re not many, but we try our best to provide for them with whatever they need.
Where will students sit for their official exams? This is one of the main obstacles we’re facing at the moment. I’m trying to communicate with the relevant authorities in the national coalition to resolve this issue. Otherwise, we’ll have to get our students to Antakya to sit for their [official] exams there. Unfortunately, this is almost impossible to achieve in light of the deteriorating financial situation [of many families] and the difficulties to travel sometimes. I’m still trying to reach out to all organizations working in this field to guarantee our students’ efforts aren’t in vain.