UNICEF supports Grade 12 students to sit for national exams in Aleppo

A journey through conflict lines towards a better future

Antwan Chnkdji and Yasmine Saker
a boy sitting on a floor matress studying
UNICEF/Syria/2020/Chnkdji
13 September 2020

Aleppo, Syria, 26 August 2020- Having traveled long distances and crossed conflict lines to achieve their dreams for a better future, over 1,000 brave boys and girls arrived in Aleppo city in June to sit for their national Grade 12 exams. Coming from hard-to-reach areas in rural Aleppo including Manbij, Albab, Azaz, Ain Alarab and Jarablus, some of them spent over 48 hours on the road.

girls in a classroom with teacher and workers
UNICEF/Syria/2020/Chnkdji
Students coming from hard-to-reach areas in rural Aleppo to sit for their national Grade 12 exams attend an awareness-raising session on precautionary measures to protect themselves against COVID-19, at a UNICEF-supported temporary accommodation centre in Aleppo city.
boys and young adults studying in a shared living space
UNICEF/Syria/2020/Chnkdji
Students coming from hard-to-reach areas in rural Aleppo prepare for their national Grade 12 exams at a temporary accommodation centre in Aleppo city, supported by UNICEF.

Working with partners and other UN agencies, and thanks to generous contributions from Japan, Canada and the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), UNICEF provided the students with support including remedial classes to prepare for the exams, bursaries to help cover transportation costs, the provision of stationery and learning materials, as well as psychosocial support through group and one-on-one sessions.  Children and chaperoning teachers also received mine risk education to ensure their safety when returning to their war-ravaged areas where explosive hazards are prevalent.

girls and young adults playing with balloons in a classroom
UNICEF/Syria/2020/Chnkdji
UNICEF-supported volunteers organize a group psychosocial support session for students coming from hard-to-reach areas to sit for their national Grade 12 exams in Aleppo city.
workers in PPE spraying a classroom with disinfectant
UNICEF/Syria/2020/Chnkdji
To ensure the safety of students coming from hard-to-reach areas in rural Aleppo to sit for their national Grade 12 exams in Aleppo city amidst COVID-19 concerns, UNICEF undertook daily sanitation of the 10 accommodation centres and over 480 exam centres.
a guy studying
UNICEF/Syria/2020/Chnkdji
“I want to be the first one in my family to get a university degree and make my father proud,” says Abdullah*, 19, who came all the way from Manbij to sit for his national Grade 12 exam. Abdullah led a normal life until extremists took over his hometown, imposing restrictions on all aspects of everyday life, including education. “I watched them close down my school and burn all the books we had,” he recalls. “We were afraid to even leave our house,” he adds. A year later, with the help of smugglers, Abdullah and his family fled Manbij to neighbouring Lebanon, walking overnight through the desert.
a girl studying
UNICEF/Syria/2020/Chnkdji
“Many of my friends got married and divorced too young; I want to become a lawyer to help all girls and women defend their rights,” says Asenat*, 18, who made the long trip from Manbij to Aleppo city to sit for her national Grade 12 exams, to be able to eventually go to law school. Having spent an entire day on the road, Asenat and her peers finally arrived to the pre-designated temporary accommodation centres, supported by UNICEF. Back in Manbij, Asenat lost years of learning when extremist groups took over the town, imposing restrictions on education. “It wasn’t only our education that they controlled; the entire community suffered from lack of food; there were days when all we had to eat was homemade bread to survive,” recalls Asenat.

To ensure a comfortable stay for students, UNICEF also prepared 10 accommodation centres in the governorate through rehabilitation of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, provision of safe drinking water, installation of windows and doors, and maintenance of electricity. To guarantee the safety of students amidst COVID-19 concerns, UNICEF undertook daily sanitation of the accommodation centres and over 480 exam centres.

*Names have been changed to protect the identities

a girl studying
UNICEF/Syria/2020/Chnkdji
“It’s common in my town for girls to get married young but I refused all proposals because I’m determined to continue my education,” says Fatima*, 18, who took an arduous journey from Jarablus to Aleppo city to sit for her national Grade 12 exams. Fatima had to pay a lot of money to travel from Jarablus to Manbij and then to Aleppo, spending over two days on the road. “It was a long and tiring journey and I was scared being alone without my family, but it’s worth it!” she says. Despite having lost over two years of learning when extremists took over her town and imposed restrictions on education, Fatima was determined to find a way to continue learning; she managed to get her hands on some schoolbooks and would study at home in secret. But that was not the end of Fatima’s struggles; she and her family spent over five years on the move from one village to another, seeking safety, before finally returning to their hometown following a respite in violence. “I want to influence other people’s lives positively,” says Fatima who aspires to become an English teacher in her town to help children, especially girls like herself. “With the deteriorating economic situation, life is becoming harder by the day and so more families in my community are becoming supportive of their daughters’ education and work to improve the whole family’s circumstances,” explains Fatima.
a girl studying
UNICEF/Syria/2020/Chnkdji
“My life was put on hold for over five years and today I’m resuming it again,” says Sumaya*, 24. Back in 2013, Sumaya was preparing to sit for her national Grade 12 exams when fighting escalated in her village in rural Aleppo, forcing her and her family to flee. The family then spent over five years on the move from one place to another, finally returning to Albab following respite in violence. “Never for one minute did I let myself think that it was too late for me to go back to learning!” says Sumaya with a smile on her face. “It’s my determination to continue learning and pursue my dreams that helped me survive the long years of conflict and displacement, so I will never stop fighting for a better future,” she adds.