July 05, 2018

Courage of Syrian school children who defied Islamic State to keep on learning

Children who were at school in Yarmouk (top left), UNRWA chief Pierre Krähenbühl with preschoolers in Sbeineh camp (bottom left) and looking at the devastation in Yarmouk

A UN chief praised students who refused to stop going to their classes after the terror group banned books and killed some of their teachers.

Syrian children who defied Islamic State to continue their education have been praised by a United Nations chief.

The students and teachers refused to give up their schooling despite the terror group being in control of part of their refugee camp at Yarmouk.

Pierre Krähenbühl - Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) - met some of the children yesterday. Afterwards, he tweeted this message:

Yarmouk is a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus that was once home to 160,000 people but is now mainly destroyed. In 2014 it was taken over by Islamic State, which imposed strict limits on education - banning books and even beheading teachers who refused to comply.

Children would hide their school books and stationery under the long black robes they were forced to wear, said UNRWA, which runs schools for 525,000 Palestinian in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

“We were not always allowed to pass, so the girls devised a system,” 14-year-old Fatima said in an interview last month. 

“The person who made it to school would take pictures of what we learned - photos of the blackboard and books. And then we would share these pictures with each other through WhatsApp."

Another student called Roula said: "Once, they found a picture of a schoolbook on my phone. I was sent to jail for four days and my father for five.”

The fighting in Yarmouk became so fierce in April that hundreds of Palestinian families fled to nearby Yalda. UNRWA then helped the girls to leave Yalda to take their exams in Damascus. 

Across Syria, 81.7% of UNRWA school students passed their 9th grade exams. 

In Damascus earlier this week, Krähenbühl took part in a ceremony to honour a group of the best-performing 9th grade UNRWA students - the vast majority of them girls. 

He met Aya Abbas, who was born and grew up in Yarmouk, before fleeing the camp in late 2012 when the conflict engulfed her neighbourhood. 

She scored top marks in all her final exams. Krähenbühl congratulated her and the other students for their courage and achievements and added: “You are an inspiration to all Palestine refugees and to the world”.

The UNRWA chief also visited a preschool class at a community centre in Sbeineh camp near Damascus.

Speaking about his visit to Yarmouk, he said: “The scale of the destruction compares to very little else that I have seen in many years of humanitarian work in conflict zones.”

Krähenbühl's visit to Syria came days after he warned that a funding crisis at UNRWA could mean all of their 711 schools may not reopen after the summer break.

Watch the UNRWA chief describe his visit to Yarmouk

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