An ongoing Back to Learning campaign in the Syrian Arab Republic has reached more than 400,000 children, including Muhammad and Shaza – but much more help is needed.
DAMASCUS, Syrian Arab Republic and AMMAN, Jordan, 1 November 2013 – A Back to Learning campaign in the Syrian Arab Republic has reached more than 400,000 conflict-affected children with school bags and education supplies.
Although the campaign has had much success and is ongoing, “[S]ecurity and communication difficulties continue to hamper access and limit the distribution of school supplies in some areas,” says UNICEF Syrian Arab Republic Representative Youssouf Abdel-Jelil.
Cooperation, for children
Ongoing conflict has left almost 4,000 schools – or around one in five – damaged, destroyed or sheltering internally displaced families. Some two million children in the country have been displaced. Some one million were believed to be out of school inside the Syrian Arab Republic during the last school year.
In cooperation with the Ministry of Education and other partners around the country, UNICEF is supporting the Back to Learning campaign, which aims to reach one million conflict-affected primary school–aged children in all 14 governorates.
Education supplies, which, in addition to school bags, include 5,000 teaching–learning kits, 3,000 recreation kits, and 800 early childhood education kits, have been delivered to Damascus, Homs, Idleb, Tartous, Ar-Raqqa, Deir ez Zour, Quneitra and Rural Damascus governorates.
Back to Learning has been possible, in part, because of the generous support of Kuwait, which has provided more than US$3 million towards the campaign.
As part of the campaign, each child receives a UNICEF school bag that contains learning supplies: notebooks, ballpoint pens, pencils, erasers, colouring pencils and a set of rulers.
For children displaced by the conflict, who may have left their homes in a hurry with little more than their clothing, these supplies are essential for them to continue their education.
“I am happy to receive this bag,” says Muhammad, 9, who fled Aleppo with his family a year ago and now goes to school in Tartous. “When I was in Aleppo, I had no chance to go to school. School was closed due to conflict.”
Addressing the straining schools of Tartous
Tartous is a relatively peaceful area in the west that has witnessed the arrival of waves of children and families displaced by fighting in governorates including Aleppo, Homs and Idleb.
“Here in Tartous, I feel safe, since there is no scary noise of shelling and bombardment,” says Muhammad. “I can also go to school, so I like life here,” he continues. “My favourite subject is English. I want to continue studying and be a good journalist in the future.”
The influx of children in Tartous is placing significant pressure on the existing school infrastructure; many classrooms are overcrowded and forced to run morning and afternoon shifts. There is also a shortage of teaching staff and learning materials.
To help alleviate the strain, UNICEF has provided 11 prefabricated classrooms in Tartous, benefitting about 400 students. Tents are also provided as temporary classrooms, where necessary.
Shaza back in school
Shaza, 15, was displaced from Aleppo. She attends the afternoon shift class at a Tartous school, in one of the prefabricated classrooms.
“Like me, many students displaced from other governorates come to class and study together,” says Shaza. “As many students arrive in school, we need more teachers.”
Shaza talks about how life in Aleppo was difficult. “My family suffered from a shortage of food, electricity and gas. It was not easy to survive there.
“Many buildings, including schools, were attacked and burned down,” she continues. “When I lived in Aleppo, I could not go to school. Children were not allowed to walk outside freely since many snipers were shooting there every day. So, I had to stay at home. Security was getting worse day by day, and violence was part of our daily life.”
Shaza says that she appreciates the support displaced children like her are receiving, because they can continue their education and look to the future.
Funds and access urgently needed
Far more financial support is needed to provide more children inside the Syrian Arab Republic with access to education. Of the US$33.4 million UNICEF needs for education assistance in the country, just under half, or US$16.5 million, has been received.
For now, says Mr. Abdel-Jelil, “UNICEF, along with other UN agencies, continues to call for humanitarian access to all areas of the country so that education and other emergency supplies can reach children most in need.”
Tomoya Sonoda recently visited Tartous, where he talked to displaced children like Muhammad and Shaza about their situation. David Youngmeyer provided additional reporting from Amman.