In pictures: No more classes in a tent. A new school brings Asma and her classmates in from the cold

Published: Jan 29, 2022 Reading time: 5 minutes
In pictures: No more classes in a tent. A new school brings Asma and her classmates in from the cold
© PIN

Unbearable heat and dust in summer, cold and snow in the winter. For the children and teachers who braved the tent schools of northern Syria, Education came first and comfort second. It had to. Crammed into small classrooms with only a thin layer of tarpaulin to protect them from the elements, their eagerness to teach and to learn trumped all else.

For this photo story we spoke to Asma, her classmates and her teachers about their transition from tent schools to concrete schools and the huge difference this makes in terms of the quality of education they can enjoy.

Asma is in the fifth grade at school. This year she will turn twelve and celebrate her birthday at home with her family – in a camp in Northwest Syria.

"We were displaced together with my father, brother, and sisters. In our village, I studied in the first grade at school. It was a big school with a playground where I studied and played with my friends," Asma remembered her life before the conflicts started in her village.

Like for millions of other children in Syria, Asma's life was unstable and full of moving due to the protracted conflict in the country.

"I studied at second grade in Haraki village. I still remember the teacher. He was excellent. I took the first position in this school, receiving many awards. I loved school because I have the ambition to become a doctor when I grow up," Asma said.

Her father and siblings have always motivated Asma and encouraged her efforts. But ongoing fighting forced this family to leave many times. "I remember once they hit close to our school," said Asma. 

In winter, the family came to the camp in Idleb province. "We brought our tent with us, and we put it here. There was no school at that time, and later on, the school was in one of the tents.”

"I used to see some concrete schools, and I always wondered why my school should be a tent. When People in Need (PIN) built this current school, I felt it was much better," said Asma, her impression of the new school. 

Besides Maths, English and Arabic children attend many other activities, including those supporting their mental well-being.

Children often play the games together. "Today, we had the throw the ball in the basket activity, and I scored four out of five. We also played the balance activity in the classroom. I had to walk with the coin on the head, and I should not fall," said Asma.

"Asma has a unique and distinguished personality. I started to involve her more in activities aimed at enhancing self-independence and setting life goals and objectives in addition to strengthening her personality," said Ibtihal, 41, Asma's teacher. 

Ibtihal graduated from the Fine Arts College and now works in PIN's supported school as a psychosocial support facilitator. "I have worked here as early as the school started; in 2018 when it was just a two-tent school," Ibtihal said.

Before PIN constructed a new school, children had taken classes in tents. "There were only two grades, and we did not have space for psychological support activities, nor playground," Ibtihal said. "But children felt more stability thanks to having a school and education opportunities."

Many people fled their homes and settled in this abandoned area which is far from any city or town. Once by once, things changed, and more people started living in the area here. When PIN established the school for the first time, many people moved here to register their children. 

As the number of children increased, the school expanded, and last year Asma and other children had five classes for the first grade and one class for the second, third and fourth grades.

Conditions in classes were challenging. There was unbearably heat and lots of dust coming into the tents in summer. In winter, when the weather in Syria is often windy and rainy, there is water leakage from the ground. "We had a gas stove, and students took turns to sit nearby to feel warmer," Ibtihal said. 

The new school opened its doors for children on the 1st of September 2021. The school also received two tanks to store diesel for heating, and we installed the new diesel stoves. PIN provided children with bags and school staff with teacher kits.

"They (PIN) built a big playground, two first-grade classrooms, four second-grade classrooms, a room for activities supporting a mental well-being and three classrooms for the other grades," said Ibtihal.

"Now the children feel more psychologically relieved. There are also drawings, pictures, and decorations on the walls," she said.

Despite many displacements and the loss of her mother, Asma still has big hopes for the future. 

The feeling of displacement is ordinary for Asma because all her friends are displaced. They share their day-to-day lives, go to school together, play games, and are grateful for the new school. 

Thanks to this school 502 children can continue their education. Thank you to the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation for their generous funding. 

In 2021 alone PIN ensured safe access to education for 21,500 children and supported more than 1,100 educational staff. PIN also rehabilitated, expanded or constructed 22 schools in Syria.

This would not be possible without the generous support of the European Union, Syrian Cross-border humanitarian fund, The European Neighbourhood Instrument, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

Author: Omar Khattab, Markéta Zemánková