Makeshift Syrian schools struggle in Turkey

Middle East Eye, 23 April 2014

MARDIN, Turkey – It is 7am and no cafes or shops are open in the old historic centre of Mardin, a little city on the southeastern Turkish-Syrian border. There are small children waiting on a street corner for the bus coming to pick them up.

The driver speaks Arabic, Kurdish and Turkish – something that is quite common in a region of old Mesopotamia, which has been a base for different ethnicities for centuries. He drives down roads filled with new, modern buildings, towards a neighbourhood still dominated by old stone houses. These areas were uninhabited for almost 20 years, but were recently become crowded as thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing the country’s devastating civil war seek shelter there.

After almost 20 minutes, the bus stops in the middle of a desolated area. It is 8am, and a school bell starts ringing. Around 300 children are shouting and running are heading to class, some ask teachers where to go, others remain in the halls, playing with their friends. Many are already sitting diligently in the classroom, eager for the lesson to start. The mood, like in any other school, is expectant, but it soon becomes clear that this school faces a special situation.

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The future of Syria is found at a school in Turkey

Mardin, Turkey. 8am. Almost 300 students from first to ninth grade are entering a newly constructed building, set up by the Turkish and Kuwaiti Ngo Uluslararasi Şefkat Derneği (The International Association of Compassion). In the director’s office, the flag adopted by the Syrian National Coalition and the Turkish Al bayrak (the red flag) with its white crescent moon are lying on the desk.

“The curriculum is the same as the old Syrian one,” explains Khaled Abu Tarek, the school director and former Imam of Omar Alfaruk mosque in Aleppo. “But we have introduced some changes.”

Like, for example, the introduction of Syrian historical figures long banned from the books studied under the Baath regime, who took power with a coup in 1968.

Changes, however, are not just concerning the didactics, but especially the teaching methods.

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Mindful Aid

Majalla, April 22 2014

Doctor Wissam works at the Crisis Intervention Center for Psychosocial Trauma in Kilis, a Turkish border town and well-travelled crossing point for both Syrian refugees and contraband dealers. Wissam is a Syrian psychiatrist who used to work at the Ibn Sina Hospital in Damascus before the violence erupted. He explains that the Ibn Sina, along with the Ibn Khaldoun hospital in Aleppo, were the two main psychiatric hospitals in the country, but both have now been destroyed in the conflict. Hundreds of patients that were treated there, he added, have now been displaced around the borders.

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War-torn Education

Majalla, April 14 2014

The Syrian education system is being attacked on many fronts. The first onslaught was the loss of life and displacement of students and teachers. Those who remained in the war zones saw the destruction of schools; the classrooms that still stand are often used as barracks, or even prisons. Lessons, where possible, are cobbled together in “bunker schools” in underground concrete cells or the homes of teachers, who go to great lengths to prevent an illiterate generation.

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