A new school, a light of hope

UNICEF-rehabilitated school helps Aya and her peers to resume learning

Sandra Awad and Rasha Alsabbagh
girl reading in book in class room
UNICEF/ Syria/2022/ Johnny Shahan
30 March 2022

Dara’a, Syria, 7 February 2022 – “I was excited to start Grade 9. I had prepared my bag, my stationary and bought my books and uniform. Then, I suddenly realized that I can’t go to school as planned,” says Aya, 14, from Dara’a Albalad, southern Syria.

Aya’s school was severely damaged during the violence in Dara’a Albalad in July 2021, and the start of her school year was delayed. Like several hundreds of other children in the area, Aya was out of school for some time.

Her family’s house was damaged as well, leading Aya and her family to seek refuge in the neighbouring Almahatta area in Dara’a. Aya’s father lost his job at the beginning of the conflict. The modest income he currently makes from the small grocery store he manages with a friend, barely keeps the family afloat. “We have lost our belongings and have been forced to leave our house many times due to the conflict,” says Aya. “But what makes me really sad is missing out on my education,” she reflects on her biggest loss.

girl standing in front of destroyed school
UNICEF/ Syria/ 2022/ Johnny Shahan
Aya 14, looks at her old school, damaged by the conflict, in Dara’a Albalad, south Syria, on 7 February 2022.

“But what makes me really sad is missing out on my education,”

Aya, 14

Aya’s learning journey has not been an easy one. In 2018, a shell fell on the house where she was staying. Her head was injured, and she felt terrified. “After the incident, I lost any interest to leave the house and go to school. I was afraid of getting injured again at any point,” she explains.

The relentless support from her mother kept Aya studying. Whenever violence escalated and Aya with her siblings would miss school because of it, her mother sat them down and helped them recap. “We spent so many nights in shelters during the fighting, but despite all of the tough circumstances we faced, I did not to miss too many months of schooling,” Aya explains.

teacher reading with girls in classroom
UNICEF/ Syria/ 2022/ Johnny Shahan
Aya in class, learning Arabic, in a UNICEF -rehabilitated school in Dar’a Albalad, Syria, on 7 February 2022.

With respite in violence in Dara’a in late September 2021, Aya was able to return to school. “When I saw the damage to my old school, I felt devastated. I spent some good times there,” she says. “When I found out that my mom had enrolled me in another school, I felt hope lighting up my heart again.”

UNICEF has completed the rehabilitation of four schools in Dara’a Albalad, enabling over 2,600 students, including Aya, to go back to school in a safe environment. The rehabilitation was done with funding from Educate A Child and the Governments of Japan and Switzerland.

girls talking in school
UNICEF/ Syria/ 2022/ Johnny Shahan
Aya, 14, chats with her friends in a UNICEF -rehabilitated school in Dar’a Albalad, Syria, on 7 February 2022.

The rehabilitation works included the installation and repair of doors and windows, tile works and fencing for school yards, painting of school corridors, entrances and classrooms, reinforcement of structural walls to ensure the safety of the building and maintenance of electrical systems. Also, drinking water networks and handwashing facilities were installed and water and sanitation facilities were rehabilitated to ensure access for and inclusivity of students with physical disabilities.

“It’s quite a long walk from home to school, but I enjoy going to school and learning with girls my age. The school building is nice, and the environment is friendly,” says Aya. She is now in Grade 9 and will be taking the national exam at the end of the school year.

Aya dreams of becoming an interior designer. “I wish to rebuild our home and help rebuild other houses in my town. I want to transform the ugliness of the conflict into something beautiful,” she says. 

group of girls walking in street
UNICEF/ Syria/ 2022/ Johnny Shahan
Aya 14, with her friends near their old school, in Dara’a Albalad, Syria, on 7 February 2022.