23 Jan 2013 10:00
School for Refugees
The majority of the more than 150,000 Syrians who have fled to Turkey are children. Although many are sheltering in Turkey's state run refugee camps, a countless number are living under the radar, in the border cities like Antakya. For those Syrian children, many of whom have been traumatized by their experiences of the war, Turkey does not and cannot provide public education.
“Some children have been out of school for almost one or two years," according to Ted Chaiban, UNICEF’s head of emergency operations.
The privately-funded Albashayer School in Antakya was founded 18 month ago to address the needs of Antakya's Syrian children.
In the beginning, the school provided education in Arabic for just 16 Syrian children. In three months, the number had quadrupled, according to the school principal, Sally Albunni, herself a refugee from Hama. Now over 500 students flood through the front gates every morning, and numbers are increasing.
"Every day we have new students," says Albunni. The school just opened a new branch, so now it occupies two full apartment buildings. Total number of students served is currently over 800. Students arrive in two shifts, in order to accommodate as many as possible. Others are on a waiting list. In addition to learning math, science, arabic, Turkish and art, a school psychologist helps them work through difficult emotions. Needy children receive new clothes that have been donated.
According to UNICEF, half of the 4 million affected Syrians are children living in the worst conditions and suffering from the psycho-social effects of the violence they witness on a daily basis.
At the Albashayer School, signs of trauma are everywhere, from the playground, where children participate in violent play, to the art room, where student's drawings depict tanks, blood, soldiers and guns.
But after a few weeks, Albunni says she sees improvement. The children are very resilient, and happy to be in school.
"We want to remove everything about the war," says the principal.
"We want to see them happy and playing normally."