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At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

Yearning for a better future in the Syrian Arab Republic

© UNICEF Syrian Arab Republic/2016/Ourfali
The backpack of nine-year-old Zaina, including some of her stationery, scattered on the ground near the science textbook of her 11-year-old sister Lamar. Zaina and Lamar, along with five-year-old Ismail and his older sister Hanadi, 9, were killed by a mortar attack on their way to Hatem Al Ta’i primary school on 13 October. The attack came only two days after another mortar attack hit That al-Netaqeen primary school in Daraa’, killing another five school children.

By Monica Awad

After two attacks on Syrian schools, children, teachers and parents search for the courage to move forward while grieving the loss of nine students.

DAMASCUS, Syrian Arab Republic, 21 October 2016 – For 14 year-old Jaffar, going back to school will never be the same.

Jaffar lost his older sister and mentor Aya during last week’s attack on That al-Netaqeen primary school in Daraa’. 

The attack on the school was one of two incidents within a week that ended the lives of nine students who were on their way to school or playing in the schoolyard. The two attacks – one in Daraa’ and one in Aleppo – were only two days apart. They left behind mourning parents and families and hundreds of grieving and traumatized children.

Yet while shelling shattered the morning roll call and left craters in playgrounds, students remain more committed than ever to continue their learning.

“I am determined to go back to That al-Netaqeen primary school,” says Jaffar with a trembling voice.  “I owe it to my sister Aya, who told me before she was killed that ninth grade is easy, as long as you continue to study.” 

Jaffar is one of the millions of children in the Syrian Arab Republic who are bearing the brunt of the ongoing violence.

>> Read the news note: Children in war-torn Syria risk their lives to go to school

Double tragedy

Parents are also overwhelmed, and feel powerless to protect their children from the inhumanity of conflict. 

“I rushed like crazy out of class, and saw my son lying on the floor, his tiny body covered with blood, his leg and arm severed,” says Samah, a school teacher at That al-Netaqeen primary school. “I realized that I lost my son forever, and all I could do was hold him in my arms, and rush him to the nearest hospital.”

© UNICEF Syrian Arab Republic/2016/Ourfali
Samah, a mother and first grade teacher at That al-Netaqeen primary school, sitting next to her two sons, grieving the loss of her son Ali. The school was attacked killing five students, including her son Ali while he was playing sports in the school yard. That al-Netaqeen is one of the schools supported by UNICEF through the back-to-learning campaign launched in September, ahead of the new school year.

As a mother and a teacher, Samah was devastated by her loss, yet courageous enough to go back to the school and help rescue other students. But she has been left shocked, almost rendered mute by the experience.

“We can no longer protect our children,” she says.

In Aleppo, what seemed to be a relatively calm Thursday turned out to be another day mired in violence. Only a few minutes after Rima and Zahraa bid their four children goodbye to go to Hatem al Taai primary school, a mortar attack hit the area killing all four children.

The intensity of this tragic incident for Rima, Zahraa and their families is unbearable. 

Both primary schools – That al-Netaqeen and Hatem al Taai – are supported by UNICEF through the back-to-learning campaign launched at the beginning of the school year in September. The campaign aims to get all children back in school, providing them with stationery and books, recreational activities and community outreach initiatives.

Incredible resilience

There is no safe place in the Syrian Arab Republic, yet determined children are constantly risking their lives to go to school. Those who survive are not spared from the brutality of the crisis. They witness dreadful acts of violence that no child should ever see, leaving them permanently scarred.

As a fifth grade student at that al-Netaqeen primary school, Raghad witnessed an attack on her classmates. “I am scared and I cannot sleep at night, but I want to continue learning at That al-Netaqeen primary school,” she mumbles with a courage that is heartbreaking.  

Despite the brutalities that children like Raghad are witnessing, their determination and passion for life is remarkable. “I want to grow up to become a paediatrician to help the injured children,” she says.

Investing in Syrian children is now more critical than ever. “We cannot let millions of children like Jaffar and Raghad down. We owe it to each and every child in Syria to protect them from the daily and harsh realities of war,” says Hanaa Singer, Representative UNICEF in Syria. 

Parents’ perseverance is unimaginable, reflecting and reinforcing their children’s determination and passion for life. Like most Syrian mothers, despite her loss, Samah dreams of a better future for her children.

“All I can say is that these children deserve a better life, and as a mother and a teacher, I must work hard to secure it for them.”

>>  Learn more about the humanitarian needs of children in the Syrian Arab Republic



UNICEF Photography: Syrian crisis

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