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Social Groups, Volunteers Help Reopen Schools in Post-ISIS Raqqa

Social Groups, Volunteers Help Reopen Schools in Post-ISIS Raqqa

Sunday, 21 October, 2018 - 10:45
Volunteers help clean the Omar bin Abdulaziz school in Raqqa, Syria. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Raqqa (Syria) - Kamal Sheikho
Syrian children in Raqqa have suffered a forced academic hiatus after ISIS terrorists captured their city in January 2014. The northern city however was later freed in October 2017 by US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces that expelled ISIS and allowed for social rehabilitation efforts to proceed.

September 2018 marked the special reopening of a new school year led by an optimistic local campaign titled “Al Taaleem La Yooajjal” (Arabic for “education cannot be put on hold”).

The campaign was organized by a number of local civil organizations, such as Women for Peace, Oxygen Shabab, Rooya (Arabic for Vision) and other partner organizations.

Volunteers helped clean school grounds in Raqqa city and surrounding villages.

Parents, teachers and media volunteers succeeded in cleaning up and renovating 12 schools, bringing a glimmer of hope to a population that still suffers the traumatic aftermath of ISIS rule.

Four years ago, the terrorists enforced a radical educational system and imposed ISIS-styled uniforms for teachers and students, and outlawed the academic program formerly instilled by the Syrian regime.

Many secondary school students consequently refused to attend classes with the ISIS instilled curricula, and protests took place at a school located in Rumaila, northeast Raqqa.

ISIS practiced systematic coercion, with appointed supervisors acting like prison wardens and physically abusing anyone that disrupts the code in place.

“When a young student named Ghosoun protested against the ISIS-imposed uniforms she received harsh punishment and a severe beating in front of her classmates and school administrative members,” said school teacher and head of the Women for Peace group, Hind Mohammed.

“Ghosoun fled the school and never returned. Soon after, ISIS ordered the shutdown of many schools, depriving all girls of education,” she added.

ISIS is notorious for enforcing not only gender segregation, but violating women rights.

Mohammed said Women for Peace, aided by other local social activist groups, has successfully cleaned up Rumaila’s Al Bahtari school, which will accommodate up to 1,200 students. The campaign also included the two Hortin and Al-Asadiya schools.

The Enjaz program, funded by the United States, boosted the campaign’s efforts, she noted.

“The scene is moving… everyone is involved in cleaning schools and removing dust and dirt.”

“It sends a clear message to the world that Raqqa civilians are worthy of life and deserve the best,” Mohammed said.

Oxygen Shabab director Bashar al-Karaf said that flocks of Raqqa residents are returning home and enrolling their children in schools that now have opened registration.

Most of the schools in Raqqa were severely damaged, some leveled into rubble, as a result of the four months of guerilla warfare between SDF units and ISIS. But some schools were only partially destroyed.

Karaf reported on a landmine exploding earlier this week at al-Khawarizmi school, while social volunteers were sweeping the site, but added that no one was injured.

Fears of landmines arbitrarily planted by ISIS terrorists as gradually being reduced by SDF landmine sweeps.

Karaf added that Oxygen Shabab managed to clean an additional four school buildings with the help of teachers and neighborhood residents.

He also noted that the number of students benefiting from “Al Taaleem La Yooajjal” campaign is at least 5,000 students, with social organizations planning to double that figure to cater the needs of some 10,000.

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