Yarmouk teacher: following years with no pay, instructors ‘fed up with tragic state of education’

February 25, 2016

Monetary support for education in Yarmouk camp is virtually nonexistant, and teachers who have worked there for years on a volunteer basis say they cannot continue to run their classrooms without pay.

Humanitarian organizations that funded educators inside the Palestinian refugee camp stopped or scaled back their support when the Islamic State took over areas of Yarmouk in April 2015, Thuriya, a teacher there who requested anonymity tells Syria Direct’s Noura Hourani.

“All of the organizations and bodies refuse to fund us, claiming that the area is under IS control,” says Thuriya.

Even before the Islamic State’s entrance into the two-square-kilometer camp, the United Nations Reliefs and Works Agency pulled its teachers out of a UNRWA-operated school, one of three schools in Yarmouk, in December 2012 when rebels first took over.

Educators in Yarmouk occasionally receive honorariums from local charitable organizations. But they “are not enough to live on” in light of elevated prices because of the regime’s three-year long encirclement of the camp, which prevents the passage of people and goods into Damascus proper and vice-versa.

“We’re trying as best as we can to continue working in Yarmouk for the sake of the children and their right to learn,” says Thuriya.

“But there are limits to what one can take.”

Q: How are teachers faring in Yarmouk?

Teachers aren’t getting paid—no one supports them. Education in the camp is built entirely on volunteer work, seeing as UNRWA does not acknowledge Yarmouk’s teachers because they operate in an area outside regime control. There are some organizations that provide, every month, an honorarium to teachers, but that money is not enough to live on in light of the regime’s siege and high prices.

The volunteer teachers are fed up with the tragic state of education in the camp, and have called on UNRWA and other interested bodies to support the educational process there. For three years no one has responded, and the teachers have continued working as volunteers with no pay.

At the end of the day, they’ve got families and need money to put food on the table. We’re trying as best as we can to continue working for the sake of the children and their right to learn; but there are limits to what one can take. The number of volunteer teachers is getting smaller, and if education is cut off, it will be a tragedy for hundreds of students.

 Students in Yarmouk camp on Thursday. Photo courtesy of Yarmouk Camp News.

Q: Does the Islamic State support the educational process, or allow monetary support to come in from other organizations?

The Islamic State [in Yarmouk] does not involve itself at all with the educational process, or civilian affairs of any type. IS allows any organization to fund whomever they choose. But all of the organizations and bodies refuse to fund us, claiming that the area is under IS control.

There is monetary support in nearby districts such as Babila and Yelda, and teachers there receive monthly salaries. This state of affairs has forced many teachers to leave Yarmouk and look for work elsewhere in order to put food on the table.

Q: What sorts of difficulties do students and teachers in Yarmouk face?

High school students have to deal with a lack of teachers. There is little electricity, water, and firewood for heating classrooms. Some [humanitarian] organizations help to cover our needs from time to time according to their abilities.

It’s difficult to secure teachers specialized in English, math and physics. Teachers buy pens with their own money.

In short, the state of education in the camp is poor and does not encourage students to study, or families to send their students to school. Some families have in fact stopped doing so.

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