March 26, 2014
In a report published last week, UNICEF found that 2.8 million Syrian children are currently not attending school – nearly half of Syria’s children. As the conflict enters its fourth year, the report said, 2.3 million of those out-of-school children remain inside Syria. In “hardest-hit areas” such as Aleppo and Idlib provinces, only 30 percent of children are in school.
Having fled her Damascus neighborhood of Sbieneh, Ola is a mother of two boys, ages nine and seven, now living in the regime-controlled Damascus neighborhood of al-Midan. As of a few months ago, she became a single parent when her husband was arrested by the regime. This glimpse into their childhoods provides a snapshot of their displaced generation.
Ola tells Syria Direct’s Raneem Qubatrus about her struggle to provide normalcy for her children as a forcibly broken family structure, displacement and war take their toll.
Q: Where do you live in Damascus?
First we were in Sbieneh neighborhood, then the FSA entered the area and the regime started bombarding the neighborhood, and so we left. Now we are in al-Midan neighborhood, living with our relatives.
A young boy carries bread in central Damascus. Courtesy of Lens Young Dimashqi.
Q: Were your children going to school when you lived in Sbieneh?
They used to attend school before the regime’s army came into the neighborhood. After the bombardment started, we began to send them once every ten days. Now, after we moved from our main neighborhood, we didn’t enroll them in a new school.
Q: Why not?
I went with my sister to register them, but they did not accept them as there is no space for them. As you know Damascus schools are filled with [internally displaced] students from Outer Damascus. Also, the children’s father changed his mind about enrolling them in schools as he thought it was too dangerous to let them leave the house. You never know when bombardments could start and then you need to carry your children and run away.
Q: What do your children do during the day? Have you tried to teach them at home?
They play in the house and are noisy, or go play in the neighborhood. We tried to teach them at home, but it is so hard and they don’t want to study at home.
Q: What are the most popular games you notice them playing?
They play war, some acting like they are shabiha [pro-regime militia] and some are FSA. They capture places and people, and so on.
Q: Do you think that these kind of games and their life without school affect their mentality?
My eldest son [the nine-year-old] has become very aggressive lately. He bullied and attacked a girl in the neighborhood, and he broke a cell phone belonging to someone in the neighborhood. He is so violent and neurotic all the time.
Q: Do they watch television? What do they watch?
[When he was still here] their father didn’t allow them to leave the house, but when he left to go to work, they drove me crazy and always ran outside. When their father was home, they watched cartoons all the time.
Q: Did your children ask about the reasons they can’t go to school, while the other children go?
The older one likes it because he is not interested in school. The second one is not happy, and he gives me a hard time. They put their energy in games and running around.
Q: Do you think they will attend school at some point in the future? Can they catch up what they have missed? How many years have they lost?
So far they have lost a year [of schooling]. Some time ago, their father was arrested by the regime. I will try to enroll them in school in the new academic year. When I told them they will go back to school next year, they were so happy – even my eldest was happy.
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