Rising from grief: Arseel’s story

“In addition to the academic benefit, being back in school has significantly helped Arseel cope with her grief,”

Lina Alqassab
Girl studying
UNICEF/ Syria 2019/ Abdulaziz Aldroubi
11 September 2019

Four years ago, Arseel was at school in her hometown, Al-Bukamal, a border town in east Syria, when a shell hit the school building.  She was six years old. “Fire broke out all around us and everyone started running and screaming,” she recalls, “I was in first grade. After that, there was no more school for anyone.”

But this was only one of a series of tragic events to befall Arseel over the following years. She still finds it difficult to dwell on them, “Since the war started and my father died I don’t remember anything,” she says, holding back tears. Arseel’s father was transporting goods for his retail shop when a stray missile struck him dead. The day she heard the news was in her words “the ugliest day ever.” This grave loss was compounded by the death of her grandmother soon after.

Amidst this grief, hardship and constant conflict, Arseel’s well-educated mother and aunts tried to create a safe space for her and her cousins at home where they mostly stayed to play, draw and get home-schooled. Arseel says that since she can remember, she had wanted to become a doctor, yet it felt like the war had not only robbed her of her loved ones but her dream as well.

“I kept asking myself, how will I ever become a doctor when I can barely read or write?” 

Girls outside a classroom
UNICEF/ Syria 2019/ Abdulaziz Aldroubi
Girls studying
UNICEF/ Syria 2019/ Abdulaziz Aldroubi

Last year, with the situation in Al-Bukamal spiraling into further conflict, the family decided to flee for their lives and head to Homs.

Despite the difficulty of being uprooted, Homs brought a glimmer of new hope for Arseel with the possibility of getting back to education. Soon after settling in Homs she started attending UNICEF-supported remedial classes to place herself back on track with a bunch of similarly-situated children.

When the new academic year started, Arseel was ready to enrol in an accelerated learning programme, Curriculum B, enabling her to finish the first and second school grades in one year.

“In addition to the academic benefit, being back in school has significantly helped Arseel cope with her grief, every day she comes from school, grabs a bite and hurries to the remedial classes. Her time is well occupied and she’s bubbling with energy.”

Arseel's mother

With much hard work and exceptional determination, Arseel passed her final exams last year.

Today, Arseel is back in her beloved home of Al-Bukamal after fighting subsided there. She has enrolled in the second level of ‘Curriculum B’ to combine grade three and four. “I’m confident I will be one of the top students. I will realize my dream of becoming a doctor to help my people and make my father proud.”

Thanks to generous contributions from Education Cannot Wait, Educate A Child, the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department (ECHO), Norway, Germany, Japan and Canada, UNICEF is supporting tens of thousands of children in Syria through self-learning and curriculum B programmes to help shore up the education of those who missed out on years of schooling or are at high risk of dropping out from school.

Girl in class
UNICEF/ Syria 2019/ Abdulaziz Aldroubi