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Syrian educators’ determination to bring joy to schools in IDP camps

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In any context, the longer children are out of school, the harder it will be for them to return. This is no less true than in Syria, where 9 years of war have created a generation of children who have lost years of education. And with the added factor of coping with the traumas of living through war and often displacement, having a safe space for children to not only learn but to simply play and express themselves is crucial for their development.

“When I gave them a free activity to draw anything they like,” Ibtihal, a psycho-social support facilitator in an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in northern Syria, recalls, “we used to draw nature and scenes of children playing.” “But now, most children draw rubbles and warplanes hitting.”

Ibtihal has been working for a PIN-supported tented-school since July of last year. She has studied psychology extensively, and cares deeply about nurturing the youth around her. In an IDP camp in Syria, she has her work cut out for her.

“The living conditions for people in the camp… are mostly poor [with] no resources. Thus, many families are not interested in teaching their children as they are living under psychological pressure [themselves] for firstly, living in a camp and, secondly, losing their homes and lands.”

Children themselves are often shy and do not accept the reality of living in displacement, Ibtihal adds. But, with passion and determination, she sees the results of psychosocial support (PSS) work every day through the education activities they do at the tented schools.

“I am mostly keen on selecting activities which have a didactic value or a life goal. It is not only about amusement and having fun, but also about teaching them life skills and moral values.” Ibtihal, who adapted the activities to abide with COVID-19 social distancing measures, focuses mainly on physical activities, but also teaches the importance of organization, cleanliness, and friendliness – all needed qualities to ensure life in the camp is safe.

“Ms. Ibtihal gives us many activities,” says Amer, 9, adding his favourite part of school is the PSS activities. “We play the ‘circles’ game where we jump from inside a big circle to another small circle to surround it. We have a lot of fun and have sport. We also have the ‘cups’ game where we have to turn cups upside down as fast as we can.” Amer and his family moved to this IDP camp in northern Syria last year, after bombing and shelling forced them to leave their home. He studied the third grade at a school in the camp last year, but his older brother Muhammad, 13, had to stop his studies as there were no classes available for his level.

“Amer loves school and I am very keen on enabling him and his brother continue their learning,” his father, Hilal, tell us. “I believe that the future is for those who learn more.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Amer’s school in the camp, along with hundreds of other across the country, temporarily closed. PIN helped facilitate the move to distance learning, incorporating online classes and information sharing on social media platforms, including PSS activities for entire families to enjoy.

Of course, nothing beats the impact of in-person learning. “Going to school is better as I can understand more and see the teachers and my friends,” Amer shares with us. “This year I am going to school as it just opened,” he adds excitedly that he wishes to study hard and become a teacher.

The tented-schools in the camps PIN works in have implemented a blended methodology, with specific number of kids alternating days to study and enjoy PSS activities in person to maintain social distancing, completing the rest of their studies online at home.

Anas, a PIN facilitator in a Child-friendly Space (CFS), explains how children were starting to get tired of only online interactions after sometime: “They were asking us when were we going to resume our work again because they were feeling down without school or CFS.”

Anas and other facilitators planned for a safe re-opening of the CFS, complying with all necessary COVID-19 preventative measures. “Once PIN was able to re-open them, they [the children] were extremely happy, they all wanted to meet their friends in the CFS and to do activities with facilitators,” Anas adds.

“I loved dealing with children from the bottom of my heart,” expresses Ibtihal, who is also excited to get back to school and live out her passion once again. “Everything we did, we saw a good result. I managed to enable the children to renew their hopes and dreams in life.”

“It is not only about living in the camp, but also about having a goal and a plan for life.” And dedicated teachers and psychosocial support workers like Ibtihal and Anas help make our work in ensuring children safety and access to education possible.

Thanks to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation for their funds in establishing education activities for out-of-school children in northern Syria.

Omar Khattab, Ahmad Ahmad and Megan Giovannetti, People in Need