Memory & Action
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Memory & Action

Giving Children “Hope that They Can Have a Chance at a Bright Future”

When asked what they want to be when they grow up, the children replied, “a doctor, an engineer, a chef, a painter, a teacher.” Others said they hope they can just go home.

Courtesy of The Wisdom House Project

The children attend a school started in 2016 in Idlib, Syria, to educate youth who have been orphaned and displaced by the war that began in 2011. Civilians in Syria have experienced crimes against humanity and remain at risk today. During a decade of conflict, more than 500,000 Syrians have been killed and nearly 13 million people have been displaced. The extraordinary human and societal destruction is a harsh reminder that 76 years after the Holocaust, the world has failed to fulfill the promise of “Never Again.”

Representatives from the Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide asked our partner, the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF), about the Wisdom House Project. To keep the students safe, the school is located underground.

Why did you start the Wisdom House Project, and who does your work help?

Hundreds of thousands of children in Syria lack education due to the war. After identifying a number of displaced orphans in need of support, education, and protection, we started the Wisdom House to fulfill these needs. Today, through SETF, American communities have provided education to hundreds of orphans while empowering an incredible group of teachers.

Courtesy of The Wisdom House Project

Where are these students?

The students of the Wisdom House are located in northwest Syria and have been displaced multiple times due to Assad [regime], Iranian, and Russian bombardment of their school. The town where the school was originally located in Idlib has now been turned into a regime checkpoint and military training center. The Wisdom House has been reestablished in the countryside of the Aleppo governorate, where they remain vulnerable to increasing violence.

What does school look like today for Syrian students living in refugee camps? What are the biggest challenges?

Access to education is really hard, especially for internally displaced persons (IDPs), as we see in the Rukban IDP camp, which is located in southern Syria on the border with Jordan and Iraq, where half the population is under 12 and there are no schools. For those who live as refugees outside Syria, the situation is not always much brighter. During a recent trip to the Turkey-Syria border, members of the SETF team met some 250 Syrian orphans of all ages, and many of them did not go to school but had to work instead. This is due to a number of factors, including language barriers and poverty.

Courtesy of The Wisdom House Project

How has the violence in Syria affected schooling for students still living in Syria?

Countless Syrian children, an entire generation, have gone without an education due to this war. The Wisdom House does its best to help fill this gap. The biggest challenge is that schools inside Syria are subject to airstrikes, forcing the school to be underground. The violence in Syria has also resulted in psychological trauma that has proven to stunt the development of children. Therefore, the Wisdom House not only has to serve as a place of education but a safe space for children to play and grow.

Courtesy of The Wisdom House Project

What do you think are the most important things these students need to be successful?

The most important thing is giving these students a semblance of normalcy despite living in a war. Receiving love and nurture from their teachers and having a safety net of American communities that help sustain them by providing school supplies, a new bus, salaries, and rent gives them hope that they can have a chance at a bright future.

What have the students shared about their hopes and their fears?

Moumena, principal of Wisdom House, told us: “The fears of the students from the beginning of the revolution were fear of death, being tortured or beaten, the shells of the tanks and the barrel bombs from the planes. In terms of the hopes expressed by students, those that have been displaced want to go home. Some of the students expressed how they wanted to grow up to become doctors, engineers. One student wants to be a chef, another a painter, and some want to become teachers because they love their own teachers so much.”

Courtesy of The Wisdom House Project

What do you want the world to know about these students?

We want the world to know each one of these students’ names. This small community of Wisdom House students, parents, and teachers represent the immense resilience of the Syrian people. Remaining hopeful that democracy will prevail and the fighting will end is not an easy task, but these students continue to show up to school each morning with smiles on their faces ready to learn. We believe they can inspire the world just like they inspire us.

What can we learn from the perseverance of their teachers?

Being a teacher is a challenge under normal circumstances. But, in Syria, a teacher not only has to worry about whether the student learns how to read and write, they also have to worry about how these children are dealing with the horrific trauma of war. They have to ensure their students are safe from the constant threat of violence. What is inspiring about the teachers of the Wisdom House is their ability to always put a smile on the children’s faces and to always bring comfort in times of destruction, despite the fact that the teachers themselves struggle to find their own peace.

Learn more about the Simon-Skjodt Center’s work, and the Syrian conflict. Learn more about SETF’s Wisdom House Project.

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