‘They don’t know anything about learning’: After 4 years of displacement, rural camps lack schools

AMMAN: Ibrahim Hadid’s two daughters have never gone to school.

Instead, the seven- and four-year-old girls spend their days playing in the dirt with other displaced children at their encampment in rural northern Hama province, where Hadid’s family now lives after fleeing pro-regime shabiha fighters in their home village  of Fan a-Shamali in 2012.

“They don’t know anything about school or learning,” the 32-year-old former IT teacher tells Syria Direct of his two daughters. Hadid works multiple odd jobs and long days, and says he and his wife are exhausted by the end of the day simply trying to feed the family. Education, Hadid says, is a luxury they cannot afford.

Ibrahim Hadid is one of at least 30,000 displaced people–including nearly 2,000 children–in the embattled countryside spanning northern Hama and southern Idlib province who fled violence in their home villages, says the head of the Fan a-Shamali local council, Mohammad Mahmoud. After landing in makeshift camps, the Hadids and others found no educational infrastructure for their children.

In early September, Mahmoud’s opposition-affiliated council, which typically fields complaints from local residents and tallies the number of displaced, urged the educational directorates in Hama and Idlib provinces to provide support for education in the camps, an ongoing struggle he says has been ignored since he first started voicing his demands in 2013.

“We started calling for support from the Idlib directorate in the beginning of 2013, and Hama in 2014,” Mahmoud tells Syria Direct. “They always disagreed over who was responsible for supporting the camps. The Hama office promised that Idlib would help us, while Idlib said it was Hama’s responsibility, since the displaced people were from Hama.” The two directorates are run by the opposition Syrian Interim Government, which provides their funding.

 Children in Ibrahim Hadid's camp. Photo courtesy of Mohammad Mahmoud.

“We want an educational camp set up for the children, filled with books and school supplies,” says Mahmoud. “All we received was some notebooks, donated by aid organizations.”

Syria Direct reached out to the Hama and Idlib education directorates on Tuesday, but did not receive a response.

Fan a-Shamali’s local council called directly for help in early October from Syrian Interim Government President Jawad Abu Hatab, who promised to raise the issue with the body’s education department, says Mahmoud. They have yet to receive any assistance.

Mahmoud’s effort isn’t the first to push for camp schools. A year after finding refuge in an informal camp near his hometown of Fan A-Shamali, Hadid, the displaced father of two, took part in a camp-led volunteer movement to set up classes for children.

Hadid volunteered as an elementary Arabic teacher, a venture that hearkened back to his previous life teaching computer technology in a government-run high school.  

Still, the volunteer-teacher movement never received any official sponsorship, and camp residents, struggling to afford basic necessities, could not fund the initiative for long.

Hadid says he quit after only three months in order to find odd jobs to feed his family. Now, he ekes out a living as a farmhand and shepherd, wishing he could send his daughters to school. “It hurts me when I see those children without an education,” he tells Syria Direct.

Even existing local schools are not an option, Hadid says. “There are no basic school supplies in rural Hama because the schools that already exist don’t receive support, either. There are also no paychecks for the teachers.” Teachers lucky enough to still receive paychecks from the Assad regime rarely bother to show up to lessons, as their salaries aren’t enough for transportation to work.

The situation in nearby rural Idlib isn’t much better, Hadid says. “Some of the schools are running but they are too far away from here.”                                                                                          

Though some organizations such as the Ghiras Foundation, which runs psychological health programs for children, have aided rural Hama’s displaced, prospects for an educational system are dim.  

“There are people in the camp ready to teach, but we need money for paychecks, books to study from, paper and a camp area set up for the school. We don’t have any of these things,” Hadid tells Syria Direct.

Without classes, children in the camps simply play in the dusty fields surrounding their tents. Those whose families own livestock help out as shepherds. “That is all they can do,” says Hadid.

“There is an entire lost generation that doesn’t know how to read or write, but we are powerless to do anything about it.”

Reported by: Madeline Edwards

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor. She left Syria at the beginning of the conflict.