Open letter from teachers in northwest Syria

Students horrified by the attacks that killed ten people including four students in the town of Ariha in Idlib, northwest Syria. Via the White Helmets

If you are an educator and would like to sign on to this letter in solidarity with Syrian teachers, please email info@thesyriacampaign.org with your full name and affiliation.

To world leaders:

We are the teachers of students in northwest Syria who are deliberately targeted in their homes, classrooms and as they walk to school. We go to work afraid of another attack, and of another traumatizing day, which we know will affect our pupils for the rest of their lives.

Our letter could not be more urgent. Early morning on Wednesday, October 20, four students and our colleague, Arabic teacher Qamar Hafez were tragically killed on their way to school when Syrian government forces attacked the town of Ariha in south Idlib with artillery shells.

At least 55 children have been killed in the past four months by the Syrian and Russian governments, nearly a child every other day, and one million children in Idlib are terrified they might be next or they might lose their best friend at any moment. Like teachers everywhere, we are deeply committed to the children we teach, and we do all we can to try to protect them but it is not enough. We need world leaders to stop the attacks, and ensure that children are safe and able to continue their education.

We’re trained to evacuate the classroom when the bombs fall. We run regular drills with the children as we only have a few minutes when there’s a warning that a warplane is coming closer, so we have to move fast. The training itself can be confusing for young children who don’t understand that we’re practicing.

Whenever a warplane is nearby, we ask the children to remain calm and rush them to a shelter, usually a small room under the stairs, where we hide for hours until it’s safe to come out. Those are the hardest moments. We respond to calls and texts from parents, and we do everything we can to help when the children panic and ask to go home.

One of our students, ten-year-old Jamila al Jasem, was killed in July. She had already fled her home many times due to attacks but there was nowhere safe left to go and at 5am on 12 July, Assad’s forces bombed her home killing Jamila. None of her third grade classmates would sit in Jamila’s chair for a month until a new student came.

Our schools have already been targeted eight times in 2021 and we’re worried that fewer and fewer children will return to school each school year. The intense fear has caused many students to become isolated and depressed. Already half the school-aged children in northwest Syria are out of school due to bombing and displacement. These children desperately need the routine and support systems that come with school.

Schools are supposed to be a safe space for children to learn and grow, not a target for warplanes and missiles. As teachers we will keep going to work even if it means risking our lives under bombs, but we need the international community to take action to end the attacks and hold Russia and the Syrian government accountable for such horrible crimes, so that our classrooms can be full with students again.

Signatories:

And teachers around the world in solidarity:

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Supporting Syria’s heroes in their struggle for freedom and democracy

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The Syria Campaign

Supporting Syria’s heroes in their struggle for freedom and democracy