AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
Published — Wednesday 19 December 2012
Last update 18 December 2012 9:31 pm
In a Turkish town across the border from Syria, a few dozen exiled schoolteachers have established a makeshift school for children displaced by their native country’s brutal civil war.
The school, on the ground floor of a three-story building in southwest Kilis, lacks all but the most basic of supplies while all the teachers work for no pay in cramped classrooms where five children often squeeze into desks made for three.
And teachers and administrators note that many of the students appear to be suffering from psychological problems that they have no training in how to address.
But for the students who were missing months of education as a result of battles between Syrian government forces and rebels in cities like Aleppo in the country’s north, the opening of the school three weeks ago was a welcome sight.
“I was happier at my old school in Syria, more than this one,” 13-year-old Hossam Hassanatu, who grew up near Aleppo, admitted. “But I am happy that this school opened.”
“I was away from school for six months — I was doing nothing, just waiting, and playing on the street.”
Students like Hossam attend either a morning or afternoon session, mostly learning Arabic, English, mathematics and science — during school hours, the lone hallway echoes with the sounds of children screaming the Arabic or English alphabet in unison.
The idea for the school was hatched when a group of Syrian teachers met soon after fleeing their homeland for Turkey in the summer.
They decided they wanted to establish a school for children whose families had made similar decisions, and submitted a request to the local Turkish government.
Classrooms finally opened to students on Nov. 26.
Now, between 1,100 and 1,200 students between the ages of seven and 13 attend on a daily basis, but several children join on a near-daily basis, their families having fled Syria, according to school supervisor Fuad Al-Sheikh Sana, one of the original founders.
They are part of countless families who have found private accommodation in border towns like Kilis, rather than going to refugee camps.
The United Nations refugee agency said on Dec. 11 that more than 500,000 Syrians had registered as refugees in neighboring countries and north Africa since the beginning of the country’s uprising in March 2011.
It added that many more had not come forward to seek help.
Sana said that while the Turkish government and local organizations had been generous with their donations of the building and basic supplies, much was still needed.
“The school needs some financial support, especially some means of transportation, because it is very far,” he said. “We also need financial support for the teachers, because they are all volunteers.”
Sana added: “Every day in Syria, you hear bombings and explosions. The students develop psychological problems because of that.”
He said regional organizations had offered to provide counselling, but no agreements had yet been struck.
Rabaa Al-Barri, one of the English teachers, gave the example of a young boy in her class who refused to speak or respond to her prompting, which she attributed to being one of the impacts of the Syrian conflict.
“Some of them are ok, but others are in bad condition,” she said.
And lacking supplies like textbooks, teachers also struggle with older students who, unlike their younger counterparts, cannot simply shout back lessons they are being taught.
“English without textbooks — how can we teach the students?” she said. “What about higher classes?“
Barri added: “From the beginning, we faced difficulties.”