In Idlib, schools reopen amid uncertainty and fear

Determined to keep their futures alive, children return to school.

UNICEF Syria
A girl stands at the front of the classroom, Idlib
UNICEF/UN0239260/Ashawi

09 October 2018

IDLIB, Syrian Arab Republic, 9 October 2018 – With the looming threat of a large-scale escalation of violence, more than 1 million children in Idlib, a governorate in northwestern Syrian, wake up every day without knowing if they will be safe.

Many of them have come here after fleeing their homes in other parts of Syria. Idlib now holds one of the largest populations of displaced people in the country. The city and surrounding areas – which were already straining to provide services like education and health care – are reaching a breaking point.

“Despite the devastating impact of years of conflict on the education sector in Syria, 4 million determined boys and girls across the country returned to school in September.”

But as the new school year begins, children are eager to resume their studies. Education is a lifeline for children in crisis, not only because it helps them continue learning, but because schools give children some of the stability, structure, and protection they need to cope with the trauma they have experienced.

Abdullah, Maryam, Ridda and Ulfat are four children who are starting over in Idlib – some for the second and third time. These are their stories.


Abdullah, 8 years
 
A boy stands in the front of a classroom, Syrian Arab Republic

“I am afraid of the sounds of war. When I hear the explosions, I run away and hide. In the past I used to run to our neighbour’s house because they had a basement to hide in.”

“I am from Aleppo. Years ago, when the fighting came to our town we fled to Raqqa. Then the fighting came to Raqqa and we fled to Idlib. In Idlib we moved many times until we settled here in southern Idlib eight months ago.”

“I want to go back to my city, Aleppo. It’s my town and much more beautiful than where we are now. But the school here is nice.”


Maryam, 7 years
 
A girl stands in the front of a classroom, Syria

“I don’t know what we will do if the fighting comes to our town. Sometimes my parents say that we might have to go to Turkey if this happens.”

“I’m in second grade at school. I am from southern Idlib. I like my school here because I have friends from all over Syria who come to the same school. I live here with my parents and two brothers, my father sells ice cream.”


Ulfat, 9 years
 
A girl stands in the front of a classroom, Syria

“I am not afraid of the fighting anymore. I miss my old town – in Hama, we were more comfortable there and the school was nicer. But I like it here now that I made new friends in this school.”

“I’m in second grade but I should be in fourth. I dropped out of school when we had to leave Hama. We moved to three towns before coming here. For the last two years, we have been moving from one place to the next.”


Ridda, 12 years
 
A boy stands at the front of a classroom, Syria

“I am from Kafr Batna in eastern Ghouta. Now I live and go to school in southern Idlib. I’m in sixth grade. Around six months ago we had to leave eastern Ghouta and go to the north of Syria. Four months later we came to southern Idlib. We were taken in busses from eastern Ghouta to northern Syria, and from there we made our way to Idlib.”

“I left with my parents and my seven-year-old sister. She was injured in eastern Ghouta when a piece of shrapnel hit her neck. I am afraid of war and fighting. I don’t know what we will do or where we will go if the fighting starts here.”


Restoring education to Idlib

Despite the devastating impact of years of conflict on the education sector in Syria, 4 million determined boys and girls across the country returned to school in September. UNICEF remains committed to reaching these children, and the estimated 2 million who remain out of school, with quality education.

Idlib is home to approximately 3 million people, of whom 2.1 million are estimated to need humanitarian assistance. 1.4 million are internally displaced persons, the majority of whom are women and children. They will be the most at risk if violence escalates.

“We won’t stop teaching. We will follow the students to where they go and set up learning activities there.”

Many schools still lack vital supplies, with almost 7,000 classrooms needing rehabilitation, and over 2,300 teaching positions vacant. In addition to other humanitarian aid, UNICEF supports education in Idlib city and its suburbs by providing clothes and school bags for children, and supporting teacher trainings on the new national curriculum as well as the so-called  ‘Curriculum B’ programme, which helps students catch up on school they have missed.

In Idlib, teachers remain committed to helping keep children’s futures alive. “If the situation escalates we plan to move our education activities to the areas where displaced people are congregating,” says an NGO education officer. “We won’t stop teaching. We will follow the students to where they go and set up learning activities there.”