Lessons in Peace
To: Evert-Jan Grit, PAX
Subject: Schools have reopened
I hope all is well with you. The security situation in Atareb is fine again.
Schools reopened last week. First we had to repair the damaged doors and broken windows. Now we are trying to reach all students who haven’t returned to school yet to make sure that they are OK.
We’ll be in touch!
Atareb, SyriaThe youngest generation in Syria has grown up in war
Children are traumatised and have no idea what peace means. The war violence in Syria has figuratively and literally put the school system in ruins.
Peace can be learned
With our Syrian partner organisation Kesh Malek, PAX works on 'Lessons in Peace’: peace and safety for children in Syria.
Young, enthusiastic professionals including teachers, dentists and doctors work together to offer children opportunities for a better future.
Children centre stage
The peace activists of Kesh Malek have established new schools where the children take centre stage. Before the revolution, corporal punishment was common in Syrian schools and children were often indoctrinated by their teachers. Kesh Malek seized the opportunity to do things differently.
"We train teachers and headmasters not to act as though they know everything and are entitled to take all decisions, but instead to engage in open conversations with their pupils."
– Member of Kesh Malek
More than 1600 children have started school
And thanks to a programme that helps children whose education was interrupted to brush up their skills, another 250 will soon get back to school.
All this has not been achieved without a struggle.
Before the war
"Before the start of the war, parents were mostly preoccupied with getting their children to school on time. Making their lunch, preparing their school bag. Then handing them their coat and a warning: will you be careful when crossing the road?"
– Member of Kesh Malek
After the war had started, we heard ourselves telling our children:"If you hear an air strike, always stay close to the wall”.
Then and now
Rewind2016: Kesh Malek runs 7 schools in Aleppo for 3000 pupils.
Attending school in the heavily bombarded city might seem a mission impossible. And yet, at the slightest opportunity, the schools open their doors. Because now more than ever do the children of Aleppo long for a sense of normality. School is their only anchor in this war-torn city.
2016 Aleppo under siege
But then Aleppo comes under attack. Nobody is safe. Kesh Malek doesn’t want to close their schools because they refuse to abandon the children.
In late 2016Aleppo falls
Kesh Malek has no choice, they must leave fast. Many pupils and teachers flee the city to escape being arrested, or worse, by the Assad regime.
"War changes your concept of what is normal. You have to adjust again and again and try to make the best of it."
But they don't stop dreaming.
Despite the ongoing war, Kesh Malek manages to rebuild their schools in Atareb, near Aleppo.
The children can continue their education and catch up on their missed childhood.
Colour!"We want colourful drawings and funny cartoon characters on the walls to brighten up the classrooms.”
The current situation
Boxes full of ideas
In the Netherlands, it may be common practice, but in Syria it is a novelty: children who give their opinion about the quality of the lessons and their teachers. Kesh Malek has introduced the ideas box to ask pupils for their opinion. And they are becoming quite articulate.
"At one school the children were not happy with their teachers and said so. I was so proud! They give their opinion, whether positive or negative. The children freely express themselves. We witness the changes in them. "
Lessons in Peace
At the Kesh Malek schools, the children are taught that not hate and radicalisation, but connection and reconciliation should guide the future of their country.
With the support of the participants of the Dutch Postcode Lottery, PAX can contribute to the rent of the school buildings and a compensation for the teachers.
Planting the seeds
"I feel that we are planting seeds. It is my hope that as these children’s lives improve, the world becomes a better place.”