Air strike threats don’t deter these Syrian children from going to school

Syria is in the throes of conflict. In the northeast, Syrian Kurdish forces are fighting ISIS militants who forced a prison break last week. It’s the largest recent ISIS resurgence. The president and his Russian allies are continuing airstrikes in Northwest Idlib province. But Syrian children are determined to pursue their education, video journalist Abddulrazaq Alshani found. Ali Rogin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Syria is in the throes of several different major conflicts.

    In the northeast, Syrian Kurdish forces are fighting ISIS militants who forced a prison break a week ago. And in northwest, Idlib province, President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian allies are continuing to pummel civilian areas with airstrikes.

    But, as video journalist Abddulrazaq Alshani found, Syrian children are determined to pursue their education.

    And Ali Rogin has their story

  • Ali Rogin:

    Each morning, the students at Al-Zahir Baybars Elementary greet their teachers outside. They line up grade by grade. They hold on to each other's shoulders as they enter school. The chatter subsides as they take their seats. Then it's time to learn.

    The routine is a precious bit of order and normalcy for young lives filled with chaos and war. They are in Idlib province in Northwest Syria. It's the last stronghold of opposition against President Bashar al-Assad, who began a brutal crackdown against civilians in 2011. In mid-2019, Assad and his Russian allies started a campaign to retake Idlib, killing at least 1,600 civilians.

    Despite a cease-fire in March 2020, the bombings have continued, often targeting civilian infrastructure. Not even schools are safe. On a recent winter's day, the Syrian Civil Defense Forces, known as the White Helmets, installed an early warning system at Al-Zahir Baybars. The goal? Buying time to hide if the Defense Forces spot Russian jets.

    The children practice ducking under desks and escaping to the hallway single file, in the same way they enter in the morning.

  • Abdul Jalil Ghannam, Civil Defense Awareness Office (through translator):

    First things first, we're going to exit in an orderly way. So, I will not exit until my classmate in front of me exits.

  • Ali Rogin:

    For 9-year-old Shahd, this drill is a bad memory.

  • Shahd, Student (through translator):

    We do this to protect ourselves from the bombing and so no one is killed.

  • Ali Rogin:

    She is among the two million Syrians in Idlib displaced by violence.

  • Shahd (through translator):

    We fled our town because of the bombing. I am afraid to go to school sometimes because of the bombing.

  • Ali Rogin:

    But she still goes, hoping school remains a haven for learning and for protection. Not all of Idlib's children have the luxury of solid schoolhouse walls. At the Al-Sukari camp, north of Idlib city, class takes place inside this tent. The nearest schools were destroyed by Russian airstrikes.

    But it doesn't seem to dampen the students' spirits as they learn the Latin alphabet and how to count in English. Children here make do with limited learning tools. But the sad reality is that some have none at all; 11-year-old Mahmoud Mandora had to drop out of school to support his family. His older brother was injured in an airstrike. His father has been in an Assad regime jail since he was born.

    Mahmoud found work at an auto shop in Idlib city, and now spends 12 hours a day fixing cars, earning the equivalent of $2. In order to stay warm, he and another working boy burn old note papers. They can't read them because they never learned how.

  • Mahmoud Mandora, Car Mechanic (through translator):

    The work is difficult here, and it's cold. When I go home, my back really hurts.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Mahmoud finds refuge on the back of a beat-up bicycle, which he restored himself using his tradesman's skills. But he just wants to be a child again.

  • Mahmoud Mandora (through translator):

    I hope to go back to school and to stop working this job. I hope my dad comes back from jail.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Up in the mountains of Idlib, 14-year-old Yamen Kurdi also had to grow up fast. He lost his leg when Russian bombs hit his school. He was in fourth grade.

  • Yamen Kurdi, student (through translator):

    The plane bombed us, and we started running. Then it bombed us again. I was injured and saw my leg was amputated. And I tried to get up, but I couldn't get up.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Yamen and his family now live in a remote refugee camp a mile away from the nearest school. He and his father walk there together each day. It's hard for both of them. By the time they arrive, Yamen is in great pain.

    Abu Hani, Father of Yamen Kurdi (through translator): His back hurts him. He comes back tired from school. He wants to learn. He wants to read, but he comes back so tired. The regime and Russia bomb the schools on purpose, so they can kill learning and destroy the young people.

  • Ali Rogin:

    But they haven't killed Yamen's drive. He wants to become a doctor and help people like himself.

  • Abu Hani (through translator):

    For me, the most important thing for Yamen is for him to learn. He's a good student, and he's doing everything he can, and he won't let us down.

  • Ali Rogin:

    The bombs robbed Yamen of a limb. But, like so many children in Idlib, he refuses to let them steal his desire to learn.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Ali Rogin.

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