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At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

A perilous journey to school through Homs, Syrian Arab Rebublic

© UNICEF/2013
Roua, 15, attends school in Homs, Syrian Arab Republic. Inspired by her determination, her father, UNICEF’s Modar Sibai, made the difficult decision to bring her on the perilous journey to school for her Grade 9 final exams.

By Modar Sibai

In his words: A father makes a difficult decision to bring his daughter to school in Homs for final exams, despite heavy fighting in this conflict-torn Syrian city – and talks about why he felt it had to be done.

HOMS, Syrian Arab Republic, 5 June 2013 – The more than two-year conflict in Syria has long made it difficult to drop my children off at school. But, I never imagined that, one day, all the roads except one would be closed – and that it could keep my daughter from completing ninth grade. We had come too far to let that happen.

So we decided to travel on the last road open – an unsafe track that takes you all around the city of Homs and then back into the Al-Waer neighbourhood, crossing eight checkpoints. Before the conflict, it would take us about 10 minutes to reach the school, while on this last open road, it took at least two hours.

I would join other parents in a procession of five to six cars to try to stay safe by travelling together as a group. Many relatives told us to forget this year’s exams because of the dangers. But, I didn’t want to let my daughter or the other children down after they had spent the whole year studying for this exam, even if I had to put them on my shoulders and walk all the way.

So I took the risk. I took it because of the determination and resilience of my 15-year-old daughter, Roua Sibai, and her friends – but it was a decision wrapped in worry and fear of what the day might bring.

Every day, Roua would think of what would happen if she didn’t reach the school, if she didn’t sit the exam after working so hard for the full school year, despite the situation. If she didn’t complete the exams, a year of her life would be gone for no reason. She went through massive confusion every day on the way to school. She kept thinking: “Will we make it? Will I be able to reach the school safely? Alive? What if I don’t?” All of that mixed with the thoughts of “How will I do on my exam?”

And last week, she managed to finish the exam, thank God. But, at the very end, she had to stay at a friend’s house in the school’s neighborhood – alone – but determined to get it done.

“It felt so terrible!” she later told me. “Waking up without finding my mom in front of me to wish me luck – and I couldn’t call her because the networks were often not available. I felt so lonely, so sad. I would go to school thinking about my parents. I would come back, and I wouldn’t find my mom to tell her how I did on the exam and how it was. It’s was tough! I felt so lonely, apart from my parents. It was painful! I missed my family so much through my exam period.”

The exams were only a small reminder of what we are all living in Homs – every single day. And what other parents will be going through later this month, as the twelfth-grade leaving exams and baccalaureates will take place. Will it pass safely, I ask myself, and what will the future hold?

We won’t know, but what I do know is that my daughter managed to finalize the ninth grade. It was a small – but very important – victory in a parent’s endless worry in Syria.

Modar Sibai is a native of Homs where he lives with his family and works for UNICEF. He is a key member of a dedicated team in Homs that is providing humanitarian assistance for thousands of internally displaced people in the Homs region. His focus is on providing access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.




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