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Schools try to create a protective environment for children in Syria

Many children have started back to school in Syria, but the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates around one in ten schools across the country are shut.

Using government figures, though there is no official data available for Damascus, the UN’s child agency reports that 2,000 Syrian schools are closed because buildings have been damaged or destroyed and over 600 schools are now housing displaced people.

In an article for the BBC, Lyse Doucet, a chief international correspondent, visited a school in Mezzeh, a central neighbourhood of the capital. This term, the school reports it has taken in 100 extra students from areas which are less safe or where schools have been unable to open.

The BBC’s reporter visited young children in their classroom. The primary pupils were eager to shout ‘Yes’ when asked by their teacher if they were happy to be back at school. When the noise of shells is heard in the distance, the teachers make light of it and the children follow their lead. One eight-year old tells the reporter after a loud thud is audible from his classroom, “oh, it’s far away”.

It’s clear that teachers and staff are trying to create as calm and normal an atmosphere for the children as possible. One Syrian counsellor told the BBC’s reporter “children are like a blank sheet of paper [and] we’re trying to write good stuff on it”. But they have an uphill task as fighting wages in parts of the capital, meaning normality in everyday life is becoming harder to achieve.

In relatively safe areas, Syrians say they try to stick to their own districts, since movement through the capital is tightly controlled. Frequent checkpoints and road blocks make travelling difficult. Even in the heavily protected district of Mezzeh, some roads are totally blocked by concrete barriers. But in some areas, families have had to flee their homes. For example, in some southern outskirts of the city, shelling has been intensive. The BBC’s reporter came across one park which was crowded with displaced people who had nowhere else to go. And from all points in the capital, the sound of shells can be heard landing, day and night. In this atmosphere, schools which remain open can only do their best to protect the children in their care.

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