Exclusive: UNICEF Helps Manbij Students Take Exams in Aleppo

Exclusive: UNICEF Helps Manbij Students Take Exams in Aleppo

Wednesday, 16 May, 2018 - 08:30
Manbij students. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Manbij (Aleppo countryside, northern Syria) – Kamal Sheikho
Eagerly waiting to board the bus leaving the northeastern city of Manbij for Aleppo city, Hiba anxiously prepares to take her ninth grade official exams at the “Imtihani” Center.

Puzzlement marked the face of the 16-year-old girl, who stood in front of the gates of the educational complex amid a crowd of students who booked their place in a very long queue early on that day.

Carrying a small travel bag filled with a change of clothes and her daughter's books, Hiba’s mother, Sajida, 42, stood among a crowd of 2,900 students who came with their parents from Manbij.

Manbij lies some 80 kilometers northeast of Aleppo.

“What matters is that I take the exams at a regime center so that I can get an official certificate to complete my education,” said Hiba amid the struggle she is going through to sit down for official testing.

For years, the Syrian regime has closed the Directorate of Education and Examination Centers in the city of Manbij, just like other cities and towns which were heavily disrupted by the seven-year war.

Bashar Assad’s regime lost control over Manbij in summer 2012 after Free Syrian Army factions liberated the city. ISIS militants then overran the city. US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and the Manbij Military Council officially retook control of the city on August 15, 2016, after fighting fierce battles that lasted over two months.

Sahar is another student who recounts how her family fled from Homs (central Syria) to Manbij five years ago to escape brutal fighting between the pro-Assad forces and armed opposition factions.

Standing next to her classmates, Sahar waits alongside Hiba for the bus to take them to Aleppo with unmissable enthusiasm and joy showing across their faces.

“Here, everyone feels comfortable and happy,” said Sahar.

The ninth grader cites the great joy derived from being able to carry through with her education.

“We will move students from Manbij to Tayeha at Abu Hosh, 15 kilometers west of the city,” head of the Education Committee at Manbij Civil Administration Suhail Wali told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Sitting next to each other, Mohammed and Wael said their families encouraged them to make the trip to Aleppo to take the exam.

Students will then be transferred to United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) teams that will accompany them to regime-controlled testing centers and return them to SDF-controlled grounds.

“We adopted the government curriculum issued by the Directorate of Education in Damascus,” Wali explained on the material being taught at Manbij schools.

“Since the establishment of the administration two years ago, we have raised the slogan: ‘Knowledge before Food’,” said board member of the Manbij civil administration Zeinab Qanbar.

“Manbij students will take the exams just like any Syrian student, regardless of whether they are present in regime-controlled area or not.”

The Directorate of Education in Aleppo and the civil administration in Manbij conducted indirect negotiations through local intermediaries to open an exam center in Manbij, said a local educational source on condition of anonymity.

In its annual report issued at the end of last year, UNICEF said more than 7 million Syrian children were affected by the war, including some 2.1 million in Syria and 700,000 in neighboring countries, who were put out of school.

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