October 27, 2013
Ammar, one of 513,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey, left Syria in June 2011. After a year of working to integrate Syrian children into Turkish schools, Ammar helped to open the al-Hurriya school inside Kilis camp after the flow of Syrian students overwhelmed Turkish capacity. Today, 4,000 students are currently studying using Syria’s curriculum, which FSA members copied and brought to Turkey. Ammar and his colleagues are working to gain international acceptance of their high-school diplomas in order for young Syrians to continue their higher education in Turkey and other Arab countries.
Formerly an English teacher, Ammar lives in the Turkish city of Kilis, 70 kilometers north of his hometown of Aleppo. Married with a newborn son, Ammar is an administrator of the al-Hurriya high school inside neighboring Kilis Refugee Camp, which he recently moved out of.
Syria Direct’s Nuha Shabaan spoke with Ammar about his work educating and rehabilitating a traumatized generation of Syrian students.
Q: What are the biggest problems you usually face here?
A: Our biggest problem is dealing with male, teenage students. They went a long while without studying. It is hard to communicate with them or to control them, especially in this time of their lives. All of the students have been personally and negatively affected by the blood and the war, and most of them have been exposed to bad situations.
They’ve seen people die in front of their eyes, as well as the destruction and the bombings. All of that has damaged them. They reject anyone that tries to control them. We are trying our best to let them forget about the war, so they can concentrate on their studies and the future.
Q: Do you have a specific memory that left an impression on you?
A: Yes. I have a student who uses a wheelchair. His leg is injured. He has someone who sits next to him and who helps him go to the rest room. Each time I see this student I feel pain and sorrow. I feel bad each time I remember that there are thousands of young men like this in our country.
We have a lot of work to do after liberating Syria. We will have a generation that has been physically and mentally marred.
Q: Have you started to create a plan for rehabilitating this generation?
A: There is no written plan right now. But I imagine the hard work that needs to be done after the war. That work should be done collaboratively, between many different fields: mental, physical, physiological, athletic, etc.
Q: What did you do before the revolution? What is your job now in the camp?
A: I was a high school English teacher in Aleppo. Now, I care for children and do problem-solving. I also work in administration, documenting absences, working in school records and organizing teacher’s schedules.
A man stands above a housing container in Turkey’s Kilis Refugee Camp. Photo courtesy of Nuha Shabaan.
Q: Do students take an official exam in this school? How many students have received [education] degrees from the camp?
A: Here in Turkey, our Turkish brothers now accept students who have graduated in 2012 into their universities. The give them courses in the Turkish language and will move them to universities to study for free. This year they will also accept a number of other distinguished students in their universities. As for the other neighboring countries, I don’t know.
I’m responsible for the students present here in Turkey; there are people responsible for these matters in each town. The coalition is trying to get Turkey to recognize students who received a certificate from the coalition this year. The Libyan authorities recognize it, as Libya plans to accept Syrian students in its universities.
When the regime falls the [overall certification process for all Syrian students] will be amended. We have a full team of supervisors and observers to work on the topic.
Q: Do you use the Turkish curriculum when you teach?
A: No, we use the Syrian curriculum. We brought it from Syria. Members of the Free Syrian Army went to Syria and brought the curriculum. We printed it here under the supervision of [FSA-affiliated armed rebel opposition group] Ahrar al-Sham’s aid council. We got rid of many lessons that are not important anymore. We also teach the students the Turkish language six hours a week.
Q: Do you receive a monthly salary?
A: No. We have always been volunteers. We were a group of teachers, without salary or compensation, with the goal of educating children. We announced a need for teachers from all fields, especially ones holding higher degrees. We had many more to choose from, but we chose 163 teachers, especially the holders of higher degrees. We have 4,000 students in the school right now, divided between morning for children and evening classes for men.
Q: Do all the teachers live in the camp?
A: Most of them live in the camp and the rest live nearby. We were careful to choose people who live close to or inside the camp so they can easily reach the school every day, especially as they are volunteers.
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