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At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

Janitor-training programme strengthens schools and communities in Syria

Support from UNICEF and European Union

© UNICEF Syria/2010/Sixsmith
With UNICEF support, janitors in Damascus, the Syrian capital, are learning new techniques for better school maintenance.

By Rob Sixsmith

DAMASCUS, Syrian Arab Republic, 28 May 2010 – With time and constant use, schools get worn out. Natural erosion is caused by the ebb and flow of hundreds of excitable young children. Without proper maintenance, no school building can endure forever.

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Faced with the daily influx of local students and the additional pressure of thousands of Iraqi refugees, Syrian schools have been showing the effects of the conflict in the region. Traditionally, schools here must wait until the summer recess to be repaired by the Ministry of Education. This year, however, a new international partnership is working to support the daily maintenance of over-stretched schools.

Refugee students
As part of their support programme for schools serving Iraqi refugees, UNICEF and the European Union are working to better equip those who provide daily up-keep to Syrian schools – janitors and maintenance personnel.

© UNICEF Syria/2010/Sixsmith
Professional janitors trained by UNICEF and its partners in Syria perform tasks including repair of worn-out furniture and keeping schools clean.

“Schools are like clocks. If one wheel breaks down, the entire system collapses,” said Eberhard Wissinger of the German non-governmental organization ‘HELP.’ UNICEF partnered with HELP to coordinate more than 60 training sessions for janitorial staff in and around Damascus, the Syrian capital.

“New schools were being built, but there was no maintenance and that investment was at risk. So we went about training and empowering janitors and their head teachers to keep their schools running,” added Mr. Wissinger.

Training school support staff is a crucial part of ensuring the sustainability of the UNICEF-European Union joint educational support programme here. 

“Given the influx of Iraqi refugees, the education project as a whole is a very important project,” said Urs Fruehauf, Crisis Response and Crisis Management Coordinator for the European Union in Syria. “These workshops are an important part of maintaining that.”

Improved lives

The training programme isn’t just benefiting schools. For some of the trained janitors, such as Muhammed Hahmoon Haswej, it results in new-found pride in their work.

© UNICEF Syria/2010/Sixsmith
Maintenance tools are provided to janitors by UNICEF and the European Union, who are partnering to create healthier school environments in Syria.

“Janitors used to be seen as nothing,” said Mr. Haswej. “I feel so happy when I fix something in the school. This training was really useful for us. I dare you, look around, you won’t find a single thing broken.”

Many of the trained janitors are also bringing new technical skills home to their own families and communities, designing and maintaining their own family homes.

Through this secondary benefit, the programme affects lives far beyond school hallways. Maintenance training helps bolster communities and schools against regional instability, keeping morale – and education rates – up.




17 May 2010: UNICEF's Rob Sixsmith reports on a janitor-training programme that supports school maintenance and education in Damascus, Syria.
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