Students, Teachers Rush Back to Class in Deir Ezzor

Students, Teachers Rush Back to Class in Deir Ezzor

Monday, 9 April, 2018 - 06:15
Syrian women write in a classroom at the Euphrates University in the city of Deir Ezzor on February 5, 2018. Ayham al-Mohammad / AFP
Deir Ezzor (Syria) - Asharq Al-Awsat
Since ISIS militants have been ousted from eastern Syria’s Deir Ezzor city and nearby territory in late 2017, teachers and pupils alike have rushed back to the classroom.

At 13, Mohammad al-Ragheb shyly admits that he does not know how to read or write, having spent the years under ISIS rein outside of school. 

"I should be in eighth grade now, but I wasn't able to go to school," he tells AFP.

He now sits excitedly in a crisp classroom, awaiting his lesson. 

ISIS overran large swathes of Syria in 2014, with the militants opening their own schools, banning music and the arts.

Schoolteacher Ahlam says the militants tried to recruit her to teach in one of their schools . 

She refused, opting to teach her children in secret at home and eking out a living from an orchard she tended to with her husband, an agricultural engineer.

"I thought there would no longer be a future for our children -- no schooling, no rights," recalls Ahlam.

"But thank God, the children are studying, so they can at least read and write," she tells AFP, her hair covered by a blue headscarf. 

According to Deir Ezzor's education directorate, the fighting in the region meant some 200,000 students went without proper schooling for five years, with around 5,000 teachers out of work.  

Now, the directorate says, dozens of schools have reopened and around 45,000 students are back in school.

Some 6,000 students are also resuming their studies at the Euphrates University in Deir Ezzor, capital of the province of the same name.

Its main buildings lie in a western part of the city that remained under Syrian regime control but was under siege for years by ISIS militants holding the rest.

But some of the faculties -- such as those of medicine and agriculture -- lie in areas that were seized by the militants.

Student Mona al-Nasser, now 24, was getting ready to graduate when ISIS swept across the desert province in 2014. 

Their advance trapped her under militant reign in her hometown of Mayadeen, 50 kilometers away.

"All I wanted to do was study. I'm so happy to be back today, and I hope those other days never return," says Nasser. 

Amina, 23, has traveled to her class all the way from Raqqa -- more than 130 kilometers to the west.

"I was besieged in Raqqa for three years and could not resume my studies. I was in my second year," she tells AFP.

"It was a very difficult period. I tried as hard as I could to leave Raqqa, but I needed a miracle."

Now that Amina is back in school, she has picked up where she left off as a sophomore. 

"It feels so wonderful to be back in class, because that's what determines your future in the end," she says.

Even as ISIS lost its military grip on Deir Ezzor, the militants left unexploded mines and sand berms all across the city and its entrances, barring the way for students and residents in general.

Still, Umm Bilal says, home is home. 

"Sitting amidst the destruction is beautiful, because your house is your property. No one can make you leave," she says.

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