The Afrin School: Where Syrian Refugees Children Can Learn Again

For years hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugee children have no longer been able to go to school. UNICEF describes them as a lost generation.
More than 250 000 people have fled Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan, and are now living in appalling conditions in camps or temporary shelters.
The same applies to Bainjan, a small town near Sulaimaniya. During the time of Saddam Hussein, Kurds whose villages were destroyed by the Iraqi army were resettled there. The Syrian refugees in Bainjan are in need of much, but from the outset they wanted one thing above all: a school for their children.

Kumry Alferha, the accountant of Wadi, in an interview about commitment to the Afrin School:

“Education means to have a future! Without schools a lost generation is growing up in Syria. They need education in order to take to find a job that they enjoy. They need education in order to understand the complex world around them, and politics. Only in this way we can build us a free future in a free country.”

In early 2015 the Syrian refugees turned to both the Kurdish regional government and to different organizations with a request for assistance. 18 teachers from Syria were already among the refugees, all willing to teach without pay. What was needed was a building and help with setup and maintenance. The government and some organizations reacted positively; an old school was renovated and partially furnished.

That was the birth of the Afrin School, the first self-managed school by Syrian refugees. Only the headmaster is from Iraqi Kurdistan, all the other staff are Syrians.

Aaya is one of the girls who have experienced a lot of violence. The 13-year-old lived with her family in Damascus and had to flee from the constant bombing of Assad’s air force. She likes her school and loves the English lessons. When she grows up, she wants to be a doctor, “to help people,” she says. Her biggest dream: “The war in Syria finally stops and we can go home.”

However the Afrin School initially faced some financial difficulties, then they came to Wadi and were met with open arms. Especially our accountant -who is from Quamishli in northeast Syria- and made the school a personal priority.  Initially Wadi covered the running costs with private donations: textbooks were bought kerosene for heaters, pens and notebooks.

But there was still a lack of everything: school uniforms were missing, as well air-conditioning for the summer, the transportation of the students was a problem, a playground was urgently required, and much more.

Then the German Foundation “Ein Herz für Kinder” offered their help:

“Currently, a total of 120 children attend classes, from first till sixth grade. Classes are mainly held in the children’s native language and include; reading, writing, math, sports, music, painting and a theatre workshop. The workshop enables children to express themselves and cope with traumatic experiences in a playful way. ‘Ein Herz für Kinder’ was willing to support the school in order to keep its services running.  School uniforms and shoes were provided for the children, as well as toys, playground equipment, air-conditioning, books, notebooks and material for the theatre. “

However the situation for refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan has deteriorated.  People are lacking food, medical supplies, and warm clothes.  In the beginning of this year, teachers from the Afrin School were reporting students suffering from hunger and malnutrition.  Moreover as the teachers are working on a voluntary basis they were also having difficulty providing basic food for themselves. Once again ‘Ein Herz für Kinder’ jumped in.

Since March, Wadi is able to provide food for the teachers and 190 students. This emergency relief is essential, as it provides basics, and allows people to remain where they are and not risk their safety in fleeing to Europe.