As a result of the war in Syria, millions of Syrian children are no longer receiving formal education, while bring left to deal with psychological and social scars of their traumatic experience.
Some Syrians are working to help them, with individual initiatives aimed at educational enrichment and personal development. Dania, 36, founded an educational project for Syrian kids called My Library, which she first launched in eastern Ghouta. She is now working to launch projects in Egypt and in the Bekaa region of Lebanon, serving refugee children. She talked to Syria Deeply about what motivated her to start teaching children in a small house in Ghouta, and how she’s carrying on with her project despite many obstacles.
Children have been deprived of school for more than two years. Their [academic] interests are beginning to shrink, and they are becoming isolated from the world due to the lack of internet access and electricity. I wanted to improve the depressing situations these children are experiencing.
I used to get books from the available libraries in Damascus, and other books were donated by friends. The books mainly focused on success stories. My Library became a complete project, with a strategic plan. We started communicating with psychiatrists to come up with the best methods to deliver new ideas to the children. We used to gather the children in the house, read with them, and teach them how to act out the plays to entertain them and to develop their talents. This project has managed to help 400 children so far.
However, the project didn’t survive in Ghouta because one of the fighting brigades took over the house and closed down the project, without giving us a clear reason. I tried communicating with the local legal committee to retrieve the place and resume our work, but it was in vain; they would not interfere in the matter.
After the first center in Ghouta closed, I decided to establish a center in al-Maliha [an area also within Ghouta], and our team began to prepare and arrange the place. But then I got arrested at one of the regime checkpoints and sent to prison for bringing aid into opposition areas.
After a couple months, I came out of prison thinking that my project must have died after I left. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that 12 of my friends had continued the project and the center was up and running, just like our first center in Ghouta.
It kept going, but since I was now being monitored by the regime, I decided to leave the country and launch similar projects outside the country. I settled in Arsal and started to establish a center with the same idea, and Syrian children started coming. The people of Arsal helped us find a place to start the center.
We had interactive reading sessions, painting sessions, plays for children … we went beyond just teaching. Through paintings and discussions, we managed to identify signs of the psychological problems the refugee children were experiencing. I spoke with psychiatrists for advice on how to address the less severe psychological bruises, and the more traumatized children were sent to therapists with their parents for free treatment.
Once again, bloody events in Arsal forced us to stop the project. Families were afraid to leave their homes, or they left town altogether. So we had to once again leave the center behind, because it was too difficult in the middle of the battles going on in Arsal’s border area.
We’re now preparing for a bigger educational project named Senbleh, (Spike), in the Beqaa Valley refugee camps. This project’s task is to teach Syrian children nonviolent communication, with psychosocial support for Syrian women and their children.