Can you imagine a September without a school run? A September where the streets are empty of children in pairs and small groups, walking and chatting together as they head to lessons? A September where schools remain closed as a safety measure?
For children in Syria, it has been a reality for eight long years. Many of them are significantly behind with their schooling as a result of the war. But now, thanks to your prayers and support, volunteers at Centres of Hope supported by Open Doors are helping these children to catch up on the education that they have missed.
One of these volunteers is Shadi, an English teacher who works at a Centre of Hope in Mashta al-Helou, where around 250 children participate in activities.
"It’s so important that they learn English," Shadi says. "It’s an international language and it will help them in their futures. I am happy when the children are happy and participating in all our activities. Our programme helps the children build self-confidence and improve their behaviour."
Apart from the English lessons three days a week, children attend music classes and spiritual lessons as well as participating in various games and activities.
"We want to invest in the children, in their future but also in their spiritual life," Noura, another volunteer teacher, says. "The activities are helpful for the children; we see them change. What motivates me to do this work is that I want to help these children. But I also see how serving them has a positive effect on me. When I teach the children about God, I personally grow in my faith."
‘The war has traumatised children’
Another Centre of Hope, located in St George’s Church in Aleppo, also focuses on children’s education. The classes take place in the Al-Inaya School, held in the two wings of the church.
Ninety-two children attend the classes during the afternoons. Small groups of students can receive extra lessons in subjects with which they need help, such as Arabic, English, French, mathematics and chemistry.
"We teach the children in small groups in order to give them as much individual attention as possible," one of the teachers says.
Because their school education was interrupted by the war, many children are not at the school level they should be for their age. At the Al-Inaya school, children are offered extra lessons to help them gradually reach the required standard.
Youhanna Jamous, 83, is the principal and one of the driving forces of the school. He only closed the school for one day during the war.
"The war had big consequences for us," Youhanna says. "We saw the number of children attending our school go down from 550 to about 40. One of the reasons for that is migration. Also, we saw the children themselves changing because of the war.
"The war has traumatised children. It has also traumatised parents who fell into violence, marriage problems and addiction, which can also be a cause of children’s problematic behaviour. Many children suffer because they have serious problems at home."
The school has a psychologist who works with such children. The staff, too, offer psychological support alongside education, creating a safe and welcoming environment for children. They teach their pupils about relationships and good behaviour.
‘The children love going there’
The head of the afternoon classes, Abeer Atmar Al-Dakn, said that there are children who have missed four or five years of school.
"Some children feel they’re abnormal because they cannot read or write like the rest of their peer group. It’s important to show them that there are many more children their age who have missed a lot at school, and that their struggle is completely normal."
Outings to parks, a swimming pool or a zoo are also part of the programme – things that many parents often cannot afford to pay for.
Two of the pupils, siblings Hanna, 15, and Hanan, 10, fled with their parents from another area in Aleppo that was heavily shelled during the conflict. Their apartment is completely destroyed, so they cannot return.
"We’re so happy with the extra classes for the children," said their mother, Theresia. "We cannot really help our children with their schoolwork as we didn’t have a lot of education ourselves. We see how the children love going there and how they improve. We would not be able to pay for private lessons or excursions."
You can bring hope to Syria
It’s thanks to people like you that these children are able to enjoy learning again and gain more and more confidence in themselves and their futures. More support would help to establish many more Centres of Hope to provide short-term aid as well as microloans and training to restore livelihoods and help people rebuild their lives for the long term.
Every £35 could provide a supplementary food pack for a vulnerable family in Syria that will enable them to survive for a month.
A gift of £65 could go towards providing training and a loan to enable someone to open a small business so they can support their family and community.*
- For all children in Syria heading back to school, that they would feel safe and grow in confidence as they begin learning again
- That God would bless and strengthen all of the teachers, staff and volunteers at these schools
- That Centres of Hope would be able to continue to provide healing and trauma care for both children and adults who have been affected by the war.
*The total cost of this training and a loan is £452 per person.