11 Years Old and in the First Grade: Fuad begins School after 17 rounds of displacementPublished: Jul 14, 2022 Reading time: 3 minutes
Despite being 11 years old, Fuad is a first-grader. In a refugee camp in northern Idleb, North West Syria, he is learning to read and write with the help of his teacher, Sumaia. As a consequence of conflict and mass displacement, countless children like Fuad have had their lives and education disrupted. To this day, around 2.45 million Syrian children remain out of school.
"Many students were out of school for years," said Sumaia. "You might find a 12-year-old student who doesn’t know the letters or numbers, and we struggled a lot with such students."
Since the age of five, Fuad and his family have been displaced 17 times across rural Hama and Idleb province. Robbed of a safe and stable upbringing, Fuad’s childhood has been marred by conflict. Even the act of going to school was a dangerous gamble; schools were often the target of attacks. In one instance in the village Fuad and his family called home, a heinous attack on the local school claimed the lives of 20 children. "We didn’t dare send [the children] to school anymore," said Fuad’s father.
But life outside of school was no less dangerous. "It was really horrible, as if it were a nightmare (…) The children felt afraid going to sleep. We didn’t know where to go or what to do."
In the same village, an airstrike hit close to the tent where Fuad and his family were sheltering. Fuad was injured. Four others were killed. Fuad still bears the scars of the attack: a 1.5cm piece of shrapnel embedded itself in his abdomen. As its presence is not life-threatening, doctors are reluctant to remove it.
The shard of shrapnel is a constant reminder, however, of what one young boy has endured through years of war and forced displacement. It still causes him pain, which is sometimes so debilitating that Fuad is unable to complete the school day.
Despite his own struggles, Fuad hopes that one day he can take the pain away from others. "I would like to be a doctor in order to save people," he said. "If someone has pain or needs an operation, I can do it."
The first step towards his dream is gaining an education, and Fuad is a hardworking student. He enjoys school and playing football with his friends as any 11-year-old does. For the first time, the semblance of a normal childhood is beginning to take shape.
Education is an integral part of rebuilding normality and stability for children whose lives have been upended by conflict. The need for regular schooling is considerable, not least in refugee camps, and PIN supports teachers to this end.
"PIN has supported us with salaries and books," said Sumaia.
"Previously, there was a lack of support for education in my town. Similarly, many teachers suffer from a lack of support for education. Some teachers have been teaching as volunteers for two or three years. The teacher is the most important element in the educational process and they should be supported to help them continue their job. Many teachers are volunteers but are doing their best to teach the students."
With the support of the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, People in Need (PIN) are creating pathways to quality education and child protection services in North West Syria, reaching over 2,000 children. Targeting areas with high numbers of out of school children, this project offers non-formal education (literacy and numeracy), psychosocial support and referrals.