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Press Centre (10/2014)

Syrian volunteer teachers are determined to get back to the classroom


@UNICEF/Turkey-2014/Yurtsever
ANTAKYA – OSMANİYE, Turkey, October 2014 – In front of a single-floor, humble house on a sidestreet of the suburbs of Antakya city, in the southern Turkey, a narrow garden is bordered by a small wall and iron wires. 

The building’s facade is brick red and freshly painted. The stream of children carrying schoolbags rushing in and out is the only hint of its purpose and the Arabic signs at the entrance are the only clue that it’s not Turkish.

Fatima Al-Zahraa School is just one of the community schools for Syrian children in Antakya, a town that has seen a huge influx from its war torn southern neighbour. Inside, the narrow hallways, bedrooms converted to classrooms jam-packed with plastic chairs and old desks make it obvious that it used to be a home. The school has five classes in total — to accommodate the children the wall between the bathroom and a room was knocked-down to make a classroom. The shower curtain still hangs at the back of the room.

The school’s principal, Necla Hicazi, is an English teacher from Idlib. She has been volunteering as both a teacher and in the day-to-day management of the school soon as the school opened in 2013. The teaching staff is made up of a team of 21, who together instruct 310 students in shifts — 150 pupils go to school in the morning and 160 of them attend in the afternoon.

Running the school is no easy task as Necla has to constantly look for funding. An NGO financed the renovation of the school after it caught fire during exam period last year, but there’s a continuing need for basic support. “We receive support now and then — we have some basic needs like furniture, stationery, school bags, books and school uniform. Our teachers also need financial support,” she said.

As an experienced teacher, she is also a mother to four children whose education is suffering. “My older daughters would be going to university in Syria now, but they can’t do that because of the war,” she said.  “We rented a flat in Antakya and my husband works but we still have some financial problems. Back in Syria we had an orderly life but the conflict meant we lost our jobs, our house and our car.” 

A completely different school profile

In Osmaniye, a town 150 km away from Antakya, Syrian children attend a totally different school — one that was purpose built. The prefabricated building has 12 classrooms and is adjacent to a big sports complex. It’s construction was coordinated by AFAD, with the assistance of UNICEF and with the financing of the US Government.

Unlike in Antakya, the school has a large garden when the children can run and play games — there is  even a special area to park their bikes.  The classrooms are new, clean and well-equipped.
 
The school’s principal, Nurettin Acuz, is a maths teacher with 12 years experiences. He came to Osmaniye from Latakia.  When he first arrived, he was upset that the Syrian children had no access to school and immediately started to look for solutions. “The children either sat at home all day or wandered around outside, in the parks or on streets,” he said. “I applied to the authorities for a school and they asked me to visit each and every house in the region to collect student information. Once we had this, we managed to establish the school.”
 
All 53 of the teachers are volunteers and were recruited locally. The primary school, middle school and high-school sections have a combined total of 1,850 registered students and will officially open its doors in September 2014, although they have already started running catch-up classes in summer months.
 
Mr. Nurettin emphasized the importance of education by saying: “Science is very important. Children will not remain uneducated thanks to science. By the time we go back home, these children will have become doctors, engineers and lawyers. If children remain ignorant, we will lose our future generations”.
 
UNICEF Turkey continues support the regional programme to prevent Syrian children from becoming a “lost generation”. There are currently 14 schools up and running, with a further 36 under construction to reach the target total of 50. Supporting Syrian volunteers such as Mr. Nurettin or Mrs. Necla is a key part of the UNICEF Turkey objective.  


Story and photos by Ayberk Yurtsever
 
UNICEF Turkey Country Office, Yukarı Dikmen Mah. Alexsander Dubçek Cd. 7/106, 06450 Çankaya/Ankara. Telephone: +90 312 454 1000 Fax: +90 312 496 1461 E-mail: ankara@unicef.org