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Returning to school in a war zone

After almost eight years of way, Syrian children are determined not to miss out on their education

The entrance to Al-Kindi School is lined with children dressed in royal navy blazers with bright orange handkerchiefs tied at the neck. Written in black vivid on their cheeks are the letters UN.

They welcome us by singing a song of thanks, and over the next few hours the phrase shukra (ﺮﻜﺷ), meaning thank you very much in Arabic, seems almost to be the only word spoken.

Our colleague later told us that she was embarrassed by this display. “The people need to recognise these are their rights, they don’t need to be thankful.” She talks about the right to feel safe - without the constant threat of bombardment - and the right to an education.

The school is in El-Waer, a suburb in the Old City of Homs that was home 300,000 people before the conflict. Armed opposition groups seized control in October 2013, and the area was under siege for almost four years. Now, the population has dwindled to less than 30,000 people.

Once the siege ended in May 2017, UNICEF worked with the Homs’ Department of Education to rehabilitate four schools, allowing more than 2000 students to return to school by November 2017.

When education becomes a matter of life and death
In the line of smiling faces, and later among the frenzied action on the playground, a girl stands apart from the rest.

16-year-old Issraa - who didn’t want her photo taken - stands half a metre taller than her classmates. She hadn’t been to school since before the conflict eight years ago.

Issraa now studies in the fifth grade with girls half her age. The sleeves of the school blazer don’t reach beyond her elbows, and she hunches over a desk far too small for her.

In parts of Syria, going to school has at times become a matter of life and death because of violence and attacks. By one measure, Issraa might be considered lucky - around Syria 2.1 million children are still out of school.

But Issraa is determined to catch up and dreams of one day becoming a lawyer.

“I want to fight injustice”.

If you want to be part of UNICEF's life-changing work for Syrian children, please consider donating to our Syrian Children's Appeal.

Words and photos by Ethan Donnell. Ethan travelled to Syria at the end of 2017.