News / Middle East

Amid Ongoing Conflict, Damascus School Carries On

Editor's Note: VOA's Elizabeth Arrott reported this story while escorted by a government-assigned official.

Elizabeth Arrott
Syria's children have suffered the brunt of the year-and-a-half conflict between government and rebel forces, making up half of all those displaced by war.

And for those in school, the war is never far away.

On a recent day at the Zeid Ibn el Khattab elementary school in Damascus, children act like students everywhere. Some squirm in their seats while others eagerly raise their hands to answer a teacher's question.

But their chatter obscures the sounds outside – the thud of explosions on the outskirts of the capital.

One-sided view

Principal Maysa Masoud says that as the war draws near, teachers try to explain the conflict as they see it, explaining there is “a desire to let them know it's a conspiracy" – the view of the war upheld by government officials, that Syria is a victim of foreign aggressors from the West and their Sunni Arab allies.

That lesson is reflected in the hallways of the school, where student drawings depict heroics of the Syrian army and the nation's president, Bashar al-Assad, and foreigners with devil's horns performing political machinations.

The children express confidence in government troops.

“The strong Syrian army protects us," says one young girl, who adds that she is not afraid and calls on God to help them to victory

Prompted by a teacher, a classmate taunts the government's opponents. “Those dogs have ruined the country and we wish old days will come back the way they were," the boy says.

Debris strewn throughout destroyed school at Al Khalidieh, near Homs, September 25, 2012.Debris strewn throughout destroyed school at Al Khalidieh, near Homs, September 25, 2012.
x
Debris strewn throughout destroyed school at Al Khalidieh, near Homs, September 25, 2012.
Debris strewn throughout destroyed school at Al Khalidieh, near Homs, September 25, 2012.
Schools closed, damaged

But the old days are gone.

About 2,000 schools nationwide have been damaged, destroyed or taken over by government or rebel forces.

Parents from Damascus suburbs affected by conflict have been trying to get their children into the relative safety of Zeid Ibn el Khattab, largely because their own schools are closed.

Arifa el Nazer was lucky. Her son's school in the Zamalka suburb has been shut by fighting for almost a year. Explaining that it made her sad to see him miss so much schooling, she was able to get him enrolled.

Reading, writing, and rights

Despite the conflict and the politics, Zeid Ibn el Khattab still offers a basic structure for the children: reading, writing, arithmetic, and even a class on children's rights.

When a teacher asks students to list what those rights should be, one mentions the right to education while another speaks of free expression.

The thought is praised by the teacher, who doesn't mention that the latter is a primary demand of the opposition.

Other students raise their hands, arguing for the right to play.

In a conflict that has left hundreds of children dead, and tens of thousands displaced, the chance to fulfill that last promise – the simple right to play – is becoming increasingly rare.

- Japhet Weeks contributed to this report for VOA.

You May Like

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

Studies point to possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More