In pictures: Under olive trees, volunteers teach displaced Idlib children

Salvaging an education

COVID-19 and years of displacement have barred children in Syria's northwest from school. In one displacement camp, several women have taken on the task of teaching some 200 children themselves, out in the open air. All photos by Muhammad al-Homsi for SyriaUntold.

28 December 2020

Photo by Muhammad al-Homsi for SyriaUntold.
Muhammad al-Homsi

Muhammad al-Homsi is a Syrian journalist in Idlib, working under a pseudonym for safety reasons.

Five volunteers gather one December day to teach Arabic lessons to children in the Zummar displacement camp. The camp is located in Syria’s northwestern Idlib governorate, near the town of Armanaz, and houses families displaced from nearby rural Aleppo governorate. Children in the camp remain unable to read and write adequately, parents say, amid displacement and a lack of nearby functioning schools. 

Saba Zummar, a teacher by training, is one of the volunteers, after the camp director asked her and other former teachers to provide lessons for the children. “We started volunteering in the camp five months ago because the children have lost many years [of education]. We are doing whatever we can, despite limited means,” Saba says.

At least two dozen schools in Idlib have been damaged this year, targeted by Syrian and Russian airstrikes as part of a bombing campaign on opposition-held territory in the country's northwest, according to Save the Children, a UK-based charity. Other schools have since closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, formal schooling is ever more inaccessible to thousands of children living in the displacement camps scattered across northern Idlib. Volunteers in the Zummar camp lack even a building to house classes. “In winter, when the weather is sunny or cloudy, we give lessons to the students. When it is raining, however, we can’t, because there aren’t any large tents or a school building to accommodate the 200 students,” says Saba. 

Doaa, pictured below in the pink coat, is a nine-year-old girl from Zummar, a town in nearby Aleppo governorate that shares its name with the displacement camp where she now lives. Doaa is behind in her schooling because of the lack of available schools near the camp. “We are living under trees, in the rain,” she says. “We’ll get drenched if we go to the schools, which are in villages far from here. And even if we can go there in a car, we have to come back [to the camp] by foot, in the rain and mud.” Doaa hopes to someday attend “a large school, with a whiteboard, seats, notebooks and pencils.” 

Some 200 students living in the camp take part in the lessons, learning basic Arabic reading and writing skills. However, says Saba, the volunteer teacher, “there are few books and notebooks, as we receive no support. We do try to give out some books, which we buy with our own money.” 

Abu Hassan is a displaced father living in the Zummar camp. His three children receive lessons from the volunteer teachers. “I cannot provide school supplies for my children because I don’t have a monthly income,” Abu Hassan says. “I dream of my children studying like all other children in the world, in schools that shelter them from the summer heat and winter cold.” He is unable to take his children to the closest school in the town of Armanaz, due to the distance and his lack of funds to pay for transportation. 

Related Content

For young Idlib doctors who treated war wounds, COVID an invisible new threat

02 October 2020
Doctors warn Idlib is heading towards a “full-blown catastrophe” if coronavirus cases continue to increase. But in a part of Syria where residents have already seen more than a year...
Children at war: Reliving photos of east Aleppo

25 September 2020
In my youth and since I reached adulthood, I've expressed myself through photography. The children of Syria expressed their feelings too, through all their different ways of playing and surviving.
A famine, a ship and a folk song that spanned borders

18 December 2020
Nobody is quite certain where the famous Levantine folk song “`Al Rozana” originated: whether from an Italian ship bearing food during Lebanon’s great famine, or from some long forgotten love...
Syria’s year of pain, through the eyes (and pen) of Khaled Khalifa

21 November 2020
How is Syria’s year of pandemic, hunger and war reflected in the work of its artists and its writers? For novelist Khaled Khalifa, it raises new, urgent questions about our...

This work is under a Creative Commons license. Attribution: Non commercial - ShareAlike 4.0. International license

Illustation by Dima Nechawi Graphic Design by Hesham Asaad