HORROR AND HOPE
A lifeline back to childhood in Syria for kids who have endured conflict and earthquakes
The activities in non-formal schools provide a glimmer of hope amid the unimaginable experiences that have dominated these children’s lives.
The main road cuts through a busy market in Atmeh where traders are working to recover their livelihoods following the devastating earthquakes that struck northwest Syria in February.
Down a narrow side-street there’s an equal sense of urgency. From a series of prefabricated classrooms come the sounds of children singing. They are participating in non-formal classes and it’s far from static as they sing energetically about the five senses. This is active learning and after 12 years of conflict and the horror of the earthquakes it’s needed now more than ever.
“These activities are designed because all these children have been suffering earthquakes, conflict and tragedies,” says Safa, a teacher who’s leading the class. “This methodology helps them get out of their psychological issues and to have fun, to interact with the information they are given,” Safa adds.
Ten-year-old Hanan is honing her sense of taste by trying a pinch of salt taken from a small bowl at the front of the class. “My teachers have given me more courage to be here and to play with other children with no problems or fear that I used to have,” she says as her class finishes.
When the ground rocked violently the wall fell into his children’s bedroom. They were saved by the warmth of their parents.
Safa explains how Hanan was struggling to interact and to connect with her peers after the latest shock of the earthquakes in her young life.
It’s easy to lose hope when you think of a 10-year-old whose decade of life has been lived through conflict and now the horror of earthquakes. But amid the unimaginable experiences that have dominated these children’s lives, this space provides a lifeline back to childhood.
Read more in Daily Maverick: In images: A 7.8 magnitude monster earthquake hit Turkey and Syria
“At home I do my homework and then I play a little bit and help my Mum. After that I sleep because I really want to go to class the next day,” says Hanan, like a child anywhere.
Surviving and recovering
The landscape of northwest Syria is punctuated by sprawling, displaced persons camps, many of which have existed for years and now host two-thirds of the 2.9 million displaced people across the area. The earthquakes forced another 100,000 to move, most of whom have been displaced many times.
At a newly formed camp near the city of Jandiris, 11-year-old Abdul Karim has never been to school. His father, *Jamal, has lost count of the number of times he’s moved his family. Today, he’s just grateful that they’re all still alive.
He says that the night the earthquake struck it was cold, so he moved his seven children into his room. When the ground rocked violently the wall fell into his children’s bedroom. They were saved by the warmth of their parents.
“I like playing marbles because I’m good at it and win,” says Abdul Karim when asked about his hobbies. “Every day there is a fight because of the marbles,” jokes Jamal. His son and other children have just returned to the tent from activities run by Unicef and partners in the camp. The fun games for the numerous children in this camp and others across the area are simple but important.
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“They were very stressed, but they are doing better. It’s some relief we can notice the children were happy,” explains Mohammed, one of the facilitators at a nearby camp. The voices of children playing and singing are a reminder of what childhood should be.
The non-formal schools and psychosocial support activities are managed and run by Unicef with NGO partners Bonyan and Mercy Without Limits, among others. Funding from Education Cannot Wait, No Lost Generation Syria and the Global Partnership for Education is helping to scale up learning for children across the area. DM/MC
* Name changed for protection purposes.
Toby Fricker heads Unicef South Africa’s Communication and Partnerships team.