< Following Earthquakes in Syria, Schools Provide ‘Lifeline’
By Dan Novak
28 February 2023

The earthquakes that destroyed large parts of southern Turkey and northwest Syria in February have affected countless children in both countries.

For children in Syria it was especially severe. The country has been in crisis since civil war broke out more than 11 years ago.

Aid groups like Save the Children and UNICEF are working to get food, water and shelter to children and families there. Additionally, UNICEF is trying to get Syrian children back into school and learning again. The quakes damaged at least 1,000 schools in the country. Many of the structures are unsafe to enter.

UNICEF-supported child protection mobile team organized recreational activities for children in a shelter in Aleppo city on Feb. 20, 2023, after a devastating earthquake had struck the city. (Photo courtesy UNICEF)
UNICEF-supported child protection mobile team organized recreational activities for children in a shelter in Aleppo city on Feb. 20, 2023, after a devastating earthquake had struck the city. (Photo courtesy UNICEF)

But, not all. More than 175 schools that survived the events have been turned into temporary shelters for families. UNICEF has sent play and education supplies to shelters in Aleppo, Hama and Lattakia, to reach about 50,000 children, said Eva Hinds, the group's communication chief in Syria.

At the temporary shelters, children can play with each other and continue their schooling. Others receive emotional support.

Hinds said that education and schooling is about more than just learning.

"Education is a lifeline," Hinds told VOA. "It's a way to bring stability, it's a way to bring structure ... every day to these children who have gone through something really traumatic."

Hinds said that fun activities like playing, dancing or listening to music, can be therapeutic for children, even for just a short time. It can also bring some peace to parents.

Hinds said she recently visited one shelter and it was "very delightful to see children laughing, kids who have gone through something really horrendous."

The education system in Syria was considered broken even before the earthquakes. UNICEF says there are about 3.7 million children in Syria and an estimated 2.4 million of them do not attend school. There have been at least 700 attacks on schools and education centers during the war since the United Nations started recording such incidents.

Following disasters like earthquakes, children cannot wait for schools to be rebuilt to continue their education, said Laura Frigenti. She is head of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) which provides financing and other support for education in developing countries, including Syria. Frigenti said that rebuilding schools after such a disaster can take too long and be too expensive.

Instead, she said, learning should continue for Syrian children as soon as possible. After immediate needs like food and shelter are met, education "is something that really helps children (to be) rooted again in a community, in a society," Frigenti said.

Beyond education, schools can provide food and emotional support.

Sabah is a 9-year-old girl who received treatment for malnutrition at one of the UNICEF shelters. She was caught in her home with her family when the earthquake hit. She told UNICEF that she and her family had to escape in the middle of the night. They brought nothing with them.

"It was very scary, rainy, and cold," Sabah said later from the shelter. "I don't feel like eating. I don't have an appetite and I don't feel like eating food."

Ramadan Sulima is the principal of a daycare center in Jinidires, in Northwest Syria. He said the daycare opened last year to help children suffering from the war. "For over a year, our situation was good. We and the students were happy," he said.

And "when the earthquake started, I just wanted to get in touch with my students," he said as he walked outside the destroyed center. "When I hear a student died, I start crying ... like I lost a son though I didn't."

Sulima added that, "We aren't going to stop, we will persist. We will persist in building this generation, in building their future."

I'm Dan Novak.

Dan Novak wrote this story for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

stability — n. the quality, state, or degree of being stable, such as the strength to stand or endure; firmness

traumatic — adj. psychologically or emotionally stressful in a way that can lead to serious mental and emotional problems

therapeutic — adj. of or relating to the treatment of diseases or disorders by using healing agents or methods

delightful — adj. highly pleasing

horrendous — adj. extremely bad or unpleasant

society — n. the community life thought of as a system within which the individual lives

appetite — n. a natural desire especially for food

principal — n. the person in charge of a public school

persist — v. to continue to do something in spite of opposition, warnings, or pleas

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