our work overseas

Bringing Sabah Back To School

11-year-old Sabah has seen things no child should see. But even being confronted with violence on almost a daily basis, going back to school was her dream.

It was 2014 when I first met Sabah, a shy, 11 year-old who had been uprooted several times already in her short life.

Sabah and her family had fled their home when violence erupted in their village, north of Aleppo. They spent three years moving from one place to another, living with relatives, until their journey led them to the house next door to mine.

In Syria it is common to welcome new people to the neighbourhood. So soon after Sabah moved in, I went with my mother to welcome the new family. The first time I saw Sabah, she was standing next to her mother, looking at the floor.

As a volunteer on education campaigns, I work closely with displaced families whose children were forced out of school. The first thing I wondered was if Sabah and her seven-year-old brother were getting any sort of education.

“They are dreaming of going back to school, but haven’t seen the inside of a classroom in more than two years,” their mother told me.

Sabah and her brother have seen things no child should ever see. They watched their home burning on the news. They were confronted with violence and death on almost a daily basis.

Even so, going back to school was Sabah’s dream – a way to restore some small aspect of normality to their lives.

I decided to do something positive for these children. I started visiting their house every day to help them study English, Arabic, maths and science so they could catch up with their peers. I went with the family to gather all the required paperwork and enrol the children in the nearest school. They were so excited to be back in school again.

Only days later, mortar shells started to hit the area of the school. Their mother and I knew they were in danger but could not leave the house under the constant shelling.

"They were the worst hours of my life. I had placed these two young children in school. I had eased the fears of their mother. I was responsible for their wellbeing and now their life was in danger, and there was nothing I could do."

Thankfully, Sabah and her brother survived the shelling and arrived home safely, but they were shivering in fear. 

“We were in the basement and the roof started shaking,” Sabah told me. “I never want to go back to school.”

It was a huge tribute to the two children that they later decided to continue their education and not let fear stand in the way of their future. We enrolled them in a different school in a relatively safer neighbourhood to complete the school year.

At the beginning of this year, Sabah started seventh grade. She's 13 now. She still braves challenges every day living in Aleppo, the most dangerous city in the world.

I’m so proud and honoured to watch Sabah improve at school every day. I don’t pretend that I helped Sabah - she’s the one who gave hope and value to my life.

There are more than 1.7 million children like Sabah in Syria. And it's our responsibility to make sure they get the education they deserve.