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‘Afraid for the students’ lives’: Madaya’s schools close as regime shelling intensifies

As he walks along the road by his school, Abu […]

19 January 2017

As he walks along the road by his school, Abu Muhammad can see the checkpoints in the distance. The school principal runs an elementary school in the Outer Damascus town of Madaya, besieged by regime forces and Hezbollah fighters since July 2015.

On Monday, administrators announced that Madaya’s four schools would be closed until further notice due to shelling and artillery fire coming from the town’s periphery.

A total of 4,600 school-aged children are now sitting at home, Abu Muhammad tells Syria Direct’s Bahira al-Zarier.

“The administration is afraid for the students’ lives,” says the school administrator. “Parents are terrified that their children will be hit on their way to school.”

 A Madaya school shuts its doors. Photo courtesy of Shaam Network.

On December 25, regime missiles struck an elementary school in Madaya, 50km northwest of Damascus, causing partial damage to the building, the Syrian Network for Human Rights reported at the time.

On Wednesday, regime and Hezbollah forces struck Madaya with more than 10 mortar shells, the Outer Damascus Civil Defense reported.

Q: Could you speak to the reasons behind the recent school closures in Madaya? How did student safety affect the decision?

Schools in Madaya have closed four times since the beginning of the school year. The schools have been hit multiple times by heavy artillery, causing structural damage.

Last year, mortar fire wounded four students who needed to be evacuated to Damascus for medical treatment.

[Ed.: Medical evacuations from Madaya and neighboring Zabadani are infrequent since they must occur in equal measure in parallel with two besieged regime towns in Idlib province, as stipulated in “Four Towns Agreement.” Shelling of the four towns by both rebel and regime forces has persisted over the past several months, even though the agreement remains in place.]

We had to consider the fact that the schools fall on a road in plain view of the [Hezbollah and regime] military checkpoints surrounding the town.

Parents are terrified that their children will be hit on their way to school. Everyone knows that there isn’t any medical care if a child were injured.

 Mortar shells hit Madaya on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Outer Damascus Civil Defense.

Q: You are a school administrator in a town besieged since 2015. What is your main concern for the generation of school-aged children in Madaya?

My greatest fear is that ignorance and illiteracy will spread among the students.

If the schools remain closed, we might be talking about students losing out on an entire year. It’s not just one obstacle these students face, not just the school closure. There’s the lack of basic materials and updated curricula. An estimated 70 percent of students don’t have books.

Three weeks ago, student absences spiked because of the cold as the school has no resources for heating, with additional absences caused by illness.

[Ed.: In September, nearly half of Madaya’s students stopped attending classes due to concerns over the town’s meningitis outbreak.]

Madaya’s children are in a situation unlike other children in Syria. Cold, disease, bombardment. All of them pile up and stand in the way of Madaya’s students.

Q: How does the closure impact the 4,600 students whose education has been put on hold?

You can go to school or you can stay alive. That’s the choice the students and their parents face.

Unfortunately, they’re forced to pause their studies for the sake of their safety, though the school year is slipping by.

The situation is particularly difficult for those older students who’ve completed grade school. They don’t have books and supplies [to study from home] and they need an education.

Q: What alternatives do students have? What measures can be taken to resume student education in these circumstances?

There aren’t any alternatives at this time. We’ve closed the schools until strikes on the town subside. The administration is afraid for the students’ lives.

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