Where there is a dream, there is a way

On World Children’s Day, we’d like you to meet Amaal who’s reimagining a better future for herself through education.

Antwan Chnkdji and Yasmine Saker
a girl writing on a paper
UNICEF/Syria/2020/Chnkdji
19 November 2020

“No matter what happens, I will never stop seeking education,” says Amaal, 17, from Qadi Askar neighbourhood in Aleppo, Syria.

Like most children across Syria, Amaal led a normal life prior to the conflict; going to school, playing with friends and dreaming of her future. Amaal’s dreams, however, were shattered when violence escalated making the decision of going to school one of life or death; and fighters took over her neighbourhood, imposing restrictions on education and forcing her to drop out-of-school in Grade 4. 

“One day, as I was walking to school, a shell hit right in front of me. That was the last day I went to school,” recalls Amaal.

While at home, Amaal tried to continue her learning on her own, but as the financial situation of her family deteriorated, she had to help her father put bread on the table. She would spend her days cooking chickpeas to make sandwiches for her father to sell. Later, she started accompanying him while he worked his food cart.

A girl smiling to the camera
UNICEF/Syria/2020/Chnkdji
Amaal, 17, from Qadi Askar neighborhood in Aleppo, Syria.

“I learned how to add and multiply quickly through giving customers their change back,” she says with a smile, seeing the silver lining in everything.  

For years, Amaal would help her father during the day and read her old textbooks at night so she wouldn’t forget the basics she knew. She would also tune in to an educational channel on TV to watch some lessons. She also took it upon herself to teach her two younger sisters who had never been to school how to read and write.

Following respite in violence back in 2017, schools reopened. Amaal could not believe that she will be continuing her education.

“It was finally the time for me to get my life back,” she says with a grin. Amaal immediately re-enrolled in school and took her Grade 9 national exams, but unfortunately failed, having been out-of-school for several years.

“It was difficult for me to keep up with my peers; they would often bully me and ridicule me when I couldn’t answer the teachers’ questions during class,” recalls Amaal who felt so overwhelmed that she decided to quit school again.

“I gave up; I had no hope of ever catching up with my friends,” she says.

This year, however, Amaal’s hopes were revived when she started frequenting a UNICEF-supported centre for adolescents near her home. At the centre, she signed up for multiple courses on life skills and languages.

a girl writing on a white board
UNICEF/Syria/2020/Chnkdji
Amaal at the UNICEF-supported center in Alsakhour neighborhood, Aleppo, Syria

“In one of the life skills session, the instructor told us ‘you must never stop believing in yourself’”, recalls Amaal.

“It resonated with me so much that I decided to sit for the national Grade 9 exams again,”.

 A friend Amaal had met while selling sandwiches with her father is now tutoring her and helping her study for the exams.

Amaal’s dedication to learning has also inspired her own illiterate mother to sign up for a literacy course, and her two sisters to continue their learning.

“I’m very proud of my daughter, I have always believed in her,” says Amaal’s mother.

Today, Amaal is preparing to take her Grade 9 exams next June, to eventually achieve her dream of becoming a lawyer and fight for justice.

“I say to all young girls out there, NEVER stop believing in your self and always follow your dreams,”.