Holding on for hope in Syria

Determined to support the next generation of Syrians, teachers set up a new education centre amidst conflict

Syria has dominated global headlines for more than four years: chemical weapons, terrorism, refugees. It is a seemingly endless crisis.

The big question, the one that keeps diplomats awake at night is: how do we make this stop? The answer is not simple. Syria has become a political and moral minefield: aligning and dividing countries across the world.

Meanwhile, nine million Syrians are homeless. Many live in neighbouring refugee camps without any sense of belonging or legal employment opportunities, while others choose to risk their life travelling in tiny, dangerous boats to seek asylum in Europe. But let us not forget those who are still living in one of the world's most complex conflicts.

Nadya is from rural Damascus. Like many Syrians, she is highly qualified. Nadya has a degree in philosophy and psychology and a diploma in education. She was also a former headmistress. She could have fled, but decided to stay. "I was a teacher when the revolution began. My school was bombed so I became an activist. I opened my own children’s centre in Mleha, my hometown."

After her school was attacked, her home was bombed too. Today, Mleha is unliveable. The carcasses of collapsed buildings litter roads and soldiers roam around deserted, hollowed blackened cars.

"I lost everything. My family left. But I persevered. I moved to a nearby town and opened an education centre for women. At first, all the teachers were volunteers, but then I got funding and was able to pay their expenses. Now over 80 students are enrolled. They tell me how my centre has given them more control over their lives."

Tamkeen, a UK and EU-funded programme that works to increase good governance through service delivery in opposition-controlled Syria, is funding Nadya's education centre. Tamkeen is also helping her re-establish the children’s centre she lost when Mleha was destroyed.

I have been able to re-establish the children’s centre I had dreamt of. We call it 'home of hope’ and we offer educational, recreational and psychosocial support for children.

“We have trained over 250 teachers and hired psychotherapists to offer psychosocial support to hundreds of children affected by poverty, depression, and fear. We have a small playground,, called the ‘happiness corner’ but the facilities are indoors to keep our children safe from bombing,” says Nadya.

Nadya painted bright pictures all over the walls. “I want the centre to be an inspiring place for children to learn. A place where they can heal and forget what is happening outside. You have to understand that we are under siege and have suffered immensely.

Life has become so difficult because even the basic necessities are scarce or too expensive. The price of a kilo of sugar has increased more than 10 times. People are so poor they search for food in the rubble,” she says pointing beyond the centre’s gates.

Nadya has been deeply affected by the devastation that has unfolded in her country. But she is determined to stay and give the next generation a brighter future. We must not forget Nadya and the millions like her trying to stabilise Syria. It is the one investment no one can dispute.

The above article by Adam Smith International first published on theguardian.com.