“This year is the worst year of all,” says Alaa Al-Qash, a 27-year-old English teacher. Alaa is one of the teachers at the Deir Hassan Primary School in Idlib, which has been without funding since the beginning of this year. But Alaa, and the rest of the 40 teachers in the school, are still doing their jobs; teaching children in the midst of a warzone.
In April, the regime and Russia launched a military campaign on Idlib that has repeatedly targeted civilian infrastructure. Sixty schools have been bombed, while others are deserted as whole populations have fled Assad and Russia’s attacks. More than 200 schools are being used as temporary shelters by displaced families. As a result, 350,000 of Idlib’s 650,000 school-age children are out of education.
Alaa says that her school used to educate around 500 students, “but now the number has exceeded more than 1,000. [EU] funding has stopped, and there are more than 50 students in each class, most of them displaced, who come from different regions of Syria as a result of the Assad regime’s terror.
“Stopping funding only makes matters worse. We have been teaching the children voluntarily since the beginning of the year. We still use the simple tools we have, but there are not enough books or stationery for everyone. Winter is coming and there is no way to get any heating. How will our students understand their lessons when they are cold? How will they be able to continue their studies without books? Whoever stopped our funding, don’t they know that this support is for children only? We do not buy weapons with money; we buy books and stationery to protect our children from ignorance and extremism. We come every day to protect our students, we help them to build their personalities, to ensure a better future for them. We believe that education is a means of building a better society and that preventing education only furthers ignorance and extremism.”
“When my family and I left our home because of the regime’s bombardment, I couldn’t go to my school and take my certificate, I was so sad about it,” says Bissan, a 10-year-old girl displaced from Maraat Harmeh. “This is my first week in this new school, I go to school, but I am not happy. I do not know anyone here, this is not my school, this is not my town. I miss my old school, my friends and my teachers; my friends are all scattered now. I could not say goodbye to my friends nor my teachers. I do not know anything about them, I do not know if they were killed or if they’re still alive.” Bissan’s sister Haneen, 25, adds: “Two days ago, I was walking to my room when I saw my sister holding her best friend’s sweater, which she left at our home. Bissan was holding the sweater, smelling it and talking to it. ‘I miss you, Abeer. I hope to see you soon, my friend. I will go to school alone without you,’ she said. When I saw her, I cried silently and tried to hide my tears.
“I don’t want to see my little sister so sad. I want to watch her laugh and play with her friends as she returns from school, telling me what she has learned like before. I want to go back to our house and for the bombing to stop. I want to live in safety as before. Either the international community help us return to our homes or they help us travel. It is our right to live and learn like everyone in the world, as stated in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Everyone has the right to education. Are we not human beings?”
Bissan and Haneen’s story is shared by hundreds of thousands of people in Idlib. The international community must take urgent action to stop the targeting of schools in Idlib.