Conflict Deprives Children of Education in Northern Syrian IDP Camps

A teacher has repurposed an ancient citadel in north-western Syria as a school. Credit: Sonia Al-Ali/IPS
A teacher has repurposed an ancient citadel in north-western Syria as a school. Credit: Sonia Al-Ali/IPS
  • by Sonia Al Ali (idlib, syria)
  • Inter Press Service

"The distance of schools from our home (in the camp) made me leave education and give up my dream and my mother's dream of becoming a lawyer who defends the rights of the oppressed," Al-Hussein told IPS.

According to ReliefWeb 3.4 million people are internally displaced in north-west Syria, up from 2.9 million people last year.

Many of these people, about 2 million, live in tents in overcrowded camps that lack basic services and supplies after fleeing their homes due to the conflict. These camps lack schools and educational facilities, which has led to the dropout of thousands of children, increased the rate of child labor and early marriages.

ReliefWeb estimates that 89 percent of children in north-west Syria require protection assistance.

A Lost Right to Education

Al-Hussein points out that the nearest school is about 3 km away from his home and confirms that about 40 other children living in the same camp have given up on going to school.

The child tells IPS that he swapped his books and pens for construction equipment and headed to work on a building site to help his father with household expenses in the face of poverty and high prices.

Salwa Al-Matar (13), displaced in the Kafr Yahmul camp north of Idlib, is also out of school. Her dream of completing her studies died due to the distance of the schools from the camp and the lack of transportation.

"I was an excellent student, but after the displacement, my father prevented me from going to school far from our place of residence because it isn't safe," she says, her voice conveying her sadness.

Al-Matar points out that her father believes that there is no benefit in educating girls because every girl will eventually leave her parents' house to be married and take care of the house and children, and her husband will be responsible for meeting her needs.

Fatima Al-Youssef (33), displaced from the city of Maarat al-Numan to the camps of Kafr, north of Idlib, is a mother of four children and decided to send her children to schools in neighboring areas.

"Despite the distance of schools from our place of residence, this did not prevent my children from continuing their education."

But her decision hasn't been an easy one.

"We face financial costs and the difficulty of children reaching in the winter days due to the cold and muddy roads, which caused them to get sick."

Youssef confirms that the school where her children study has a severe shortage of seats, books and stationery, so their father was forced to buy these items for his children at his own expense.

Education Under the Trees

However, there are some grassroots attempts to get education facilities going again for the children in the IDP camps.

Teacher Samah Al-Ali (31), displaced from Khan Sheikhoun city to one of the camps in the city of Atma on the border with Turkey, has volunteered to teach children inside the camp.

"The situation of kids who don't know how to read and write saddened me."

Despite a lack of facilities, she is determined to make sure the children get an education—under a tree or in her tent.

"The education sector in the camps is completely neglected. If we do not work personally and teach children the letters and numbers, we will find ourselves facing an ignorant generation. Therefore, I volunteered to teach children without any pay. I teach them under the trees or inside my tent sometimes, so that they can take their first steps in education."

Al-Ali points out that her tent school doesn't have a board or chairs. Neither is there any stationery, notebooks or school books. In winter, it is cold as there is no heating.

Education Inside an Ancient Citadel

The ancient citadels in the Syrian north are no longer destinations for visitors and witnesses to the civilization of the ancients, as they should be. Now some have been repurposed as informal schools.

Teacher Najla Maamar (40), displaced from the city of Maarat al-Numan in the southern Idlib countryside to a camp in the town of Deir Hassan, north of Idlib, converted an ancient citadel into a school with simple means.

"Many displaced children in Idlib have no schools, so their fate is ignorance that threatens their future. Therefore, I decided to take advantage of the ancient historical citadel near my home, rehabilitate it and turn it into an educational center for children in the area," Maamar says.

"Poverty and poor financial conditions, in addition to the high rent of houses, did not allow me to rent a place equipped to teach children, which prompted me to invest in the ancient citadel and equip it at the lowest cost. With the help of volunteer teachers, I received students who dropped out of school to support them with remedial lessons so that they could rejoin the classes they missed."

Maamar worked on restoring the ground of the archaeological site and covering its walls with curtains to create an environment suitable for education, in addition to roofing the place with plastic covers (awnings and insulators). She also provided the place with a number of chairs for children to sit on and a board for writing.

For her part, teacher Nahla Halak (25) volunteered to teach children inside the citadel.

"Our out-of-school children are a catastrophic reality, and an unknown future awaits them without any qualifications to face the challenges of life or capable of contributing to building their country and repairing what the war destroyed."

The schools provide the children with a normal life, even in difficult circumstances.

"Educating children is of paramount importance for their future. Therefore, we try with limited possibilities to teach about 70 displaced children who live in this camp and lack the minimum requirements and necessities of decent living."

Halak points out the deterioration of the education situation in Idlib in light of the war. Most of the schools are overcrowded or dilapidated and are about to collapse at any moment, in addition to their lack of water, electricity, ventilation and other basic services that would provide a stable and safe learning environment for students. There are also other problems resulting from the shortage of teaching staff and the lack of educational supplies.

Halak calls on those in charge of education in northwestern Syria to raise awareness among parents about the importance of education, especially for girls, and to help families meet their needs by providing jobs.

The idea of the educational fortress that would allow her children and the camp's children to receive an education impressed Farida Al-Taha, a 40-year-old who had to flee the town of Talmenes in southern rural Idlib for the Deir Hassan camp.

"I live with my husband and three children in this camp in the midst of harsh conditions that lack the most basic necessities of life."

She points out that her children did not go to school because there were no schools nearby and no means of transportation, so she found in this simple center a ray of hope for her children and the rest of the camp's children to learn the basics of reading and writing.

Al-Taha points out that poverty impacts the success of the initiative because some students may want to go to school but may not have money for stationery or a uniform, and there is no heating inside the educational center.

"Where are the simplest rights of our children, who have suffered greatly from the hell of war?"

More than 2.2 million children in Syria are not in school, including more than 340,000 kids in northwest Syria and 80,000 kids living in camps. The coordinators of the Syrian Response Team stated earlier this year that the dropout rate was due to child labor as families attempted to support themselves, early marriage, and the distance between their homes and schools.

The statement indicated that the attacks by the Syrian regime and Russia resulted in 870 destroyed and out-of-service schools over the past three years.

More than 67 percent of the 991 displacement camps housing more than 2 million people do not have educational points or schools, where children are forced to travel long distances within different weather factors to obtain education.

More than 55 teachers have lost their lives over the past three years as a result of military attacks and hundreds have migrated. As a result, about 45 percent of schools suffer from a lack of teachers.

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