BEIRUT: For many children who still remain in Syria, and after 1.2 million others have become refugees, attending school has become a luxury.
According to UNICEF, at least one-fifth of all schools have been destroyed, and those that survive often no longer resemble schools. According to a June report by Human Rights Watch, “Both government forces and opposition armed groups have used schools as military bases, barracks, detention centers, and sniper posts, turning places of learning into military targets and putting students at risk.”
In this depressing context, and as the school year begins, the Local Coordination Committees – the country’s largest activist network – is attempting to fill gaps to provide some stability and training to a generation that has known nothing but war for the last few years.
Their efforts are being organized as part of a campaign entitled “Pen and Revolution,” covering everything from teachers and school supplies to securing spaces for learning.
“They say we have a lost generation ... Children whom for almost three years have seen nothing but violence. They have been traumatized,” says Rafif Jouejati, the director of FREE Syria (Foundation to Restore Education and Equality), a partner organization of the LCC.
For Jouejati, education has two main benefits: providing much-needed routine for uprooted young people and also essential academic training for the some 40 percent of children who no longer attend regular classes.
“We think it’s extremely important to restore anything resembling sanity. Those children who are four or five have no memory of anything but shelling and bombing. These are our future leaders.”
Across the country, LCC volunteers have been busy turning abandoned apartments, disused garages and shops into makeshift schools, and matching up former teachers – now out of work – with classes of children. They have also distributed stationery sets and school bags to children, seemingly a small gesture, but one that can restore some sense of pride and normality for children who may have lost a lot.
Funding comes from private donors, and international NGOs. Of the stationery sets, which are bought within the country, Jouejati says, “It doesn’t take a lot, when you’re buying locally. A little bit of money can go a long way.”
Most of the current teachers used to work in the profession, but the LCC also sources other professionals for the job.
“We’re using whatever measures we can to get kids back in to school,” Jouejati says.
The campaign has been active across the country, mainly in rebel-held areas, from Deir al-Zor in the east to Deraa in the south.
“We are [also] trying to work in what would be called regime-controlled areas where we can” in certain areas of Damascus, Jouejati adds.
The Pen and Revolution project is in itself a type of civil disobedience, she says, since the LCCs have generated a system of learning that breaks with past decades of strict, state-sanctioned education, in which students had to pledge allegiance to the Baath Party.
“We have de-Baathized the curriculum,” Jouejati says, focusing on concepts that might be entirely new to the children in an institutional setting.
“LCC teachers are focusing on human rights, children’s rights and international laws. They discuss ways in which to perform one’s civic duty.”
The curriculum is attempting to “to introduce the revolution’s goals” and give young people the social and other skills they so desperately need.
“We have to prepare the next generation to recover and be geared to deal with what comes next.”