Children from war-ravaged areas sit for national exams in Aleppo, Syria

As children across the world carried their backpacks to campsite or summer school, more than 4,000 brave boys and girls also carried theirs but embarking on an arduous journey to sit for their national Grade 9 and 12 exams in the city of Aleppo.

Khudr Issa and Yasmine Saker
04 July 2019

Aleppo, Syria, 4 July 2019- As children across the world carried their backpacks to campsite or summer school, more than 4,000 brave boys and girls also carried theirs but embarking on an arduous journey to sit for their national Grade 9 and 12 exams in the city of Aleppo. Arriving from hard-to-reach and war-ravaged areas in rural Aleppo, Raqqa and Deir-ez-Zor, and thanks to generous contributions from Norway and Canada, children were welcomed into temporary accommodation centres, supported by UNICEF.

UNICEF provided proper lighting, water supply and sanitation facilities to the schools. Children received stationery, bursaries to help them cover the cost of transportation and remedial classes to help them revise for their exams.

Originally from Palmyra, Ahmad*, 16, and his family have been displaced multiple times back and forth between Ar-Raqqa, Palmyra, and Rural Aleppo since violence escalated near their home five years ago, forcing him to lose almost two years of education. 

“I have lost so many relatives and friends due to the violence,” recalls Ahmad. “I will never forget every single sound of explosion I’ve heard”.

Despite everything he has been through, Ahmad was determined to continue his learning. Last year, he prepared for his Grade 9 exams at home with support from his sister, and attempted to make the journey to Aleppo from Palmyra but was sent back.

“I was devastated but my mother encouraged me to try again the following year, and so I did,” says Ahmad.

This year in early June, Ahmad bravely set off to Aleppo with a group of friends on a 15-hour journey, walking long stretches on foot and changing several vehicles until they finally reached their destination at the UNICEF-supported accommodation centre.

“I was scared that I would be sent back like last year, but I knew I had to try if I wanted my dreams to come true!” says Ahmad who dreams of becoming an ophthalmologist in the future.

Ahmad did well in his exams and is one step closer towards making his dreams come true.

“I wish that all children who lost years of learning like myself would continue their education. Nothing is impossible; it is their right to learn!”

Boy sitting for an exam
UNICEF/ Syria 2019/ Khudr Issa

18-year-old Ramez* also made a similar journey, from the city of Tabqa in Rural Ar-Raqqa, northeast of Syria.

Ramez and his family had been displaced several times due to escalating violence; when their house in Raqqa city was completely destroyed, they were forced to finally settle in the city of Tabqa.

“I have lived in so many places; camps, partially destroyed houses and even out in the open in the countryside,” recalls Ramez who dropped out of school after Grade 9 due to violence and displacement.

Despite everything he has been through, Ramez was determined to continue his learning and started preparing for his Grade 12 exams at home on his own.

“My older brother would give up half his salary to help pay for private lessons in some subjects that were hard to understand like Mathematics and Physics,” explains Ramez. “I’m the only member of my family who had the chance to go to school, so it’s our shared dream that I succeed,” Ramez says.

Encouraged by his family, Ramez decided to make the 12-hour journey to Aleppo to sit for the exams.  

“It was a difficult journey and I was scared to be away from my family,” he says. “I’m thankful that I arrived safely and had the chance to sit for my exams,”.

Ramez did well in his exams and is hoping that his grades will qualify him to study his dream field of study; civil engineering.

“Our country needs civil engineers to rebuild it, and I want to be one of them!” he says.

Girl sitting for an exam
UNICEF/ Syria 2019/ Khudr Issa

Having been forced to lose over four years of learning due to fighting and restrictions on education in rural Aleppo. Nour*, now 16, never thought she would see the inside of a classroom again in her life. 

“It was such a terrible period of my life that I can’t remember without crying,” says Nour. “I also lost my two cousins who were my closest friends”.

However, once fighting subsided in her hometown, she was eager to return to school and catch up with her peers. With the help of her teacher, Nour prepared for her Grade 9 exams and made the journey to Aleppo with a group of other students.

“I was very scared on the way here, being without my family,” continues Nour. “I had one of my kidneys removed as a young child and I have been having problems with the other, so I was in pain the entire way.” Yet, Nour was determined not to let anything get in the way of her pursuing her dreams of becoming a pediatrician to help sick children.

“Everyone should continue their learning, especially girls. It’s our only way for a better future,” she adds.

Girl sitting for an exam
UNICEF/ Syria 2019/ Khudr Issa

15-year-old Ibtisam has had her share of suffering due to conflict and displacement. As violence escalated in her hometown of Manbij in rural Aleppo, Ibtisam and her family fled to a nearby town. When they returned following respite in violence, they found their home completely destroyed. Together, they worked on repairing it but sadly her father did not live to see it restored as he died of cancer.

Ibtisam’s suffering did not end here as earlier this year she was diagnosed with chest wall cancer herself.

“I had to stop going to school for a while after I underwent surgery, I was too weak to walk,” she recalls.

Despite everything she has been through, Ibtisam’s determination was stronger than her physical and psychological suffering. She was adamant to prepare for her Grade 9 exams at home, supported by her family and teachers, and decided to make the journey to the city of Aleppo with a group of friends to sit for the tests.

“It was my first time traveling alone without my family and it was a long trip,” says Ibtisam. “But when we arrived at the accommodation center, I was happy to be reunited with friends whom I hadn’t seen in years; I felt safe around them,”.

Ibtisam still has to undergo surgery to remove another tumor, but she chose to postpone it until after her exams. She was briefly hospitalized on the day of her arrival, but she won’t let anything get in the way of her dreams to become a pharmacist.

“If you have a goal and the determination to achieve it, nothing in the world can stand in your way,” she says.

 

*Names have been changed to protect identities