By Razan Rashidi and Kumar Tiku
Homs, Syria – 29 October 2014 – Judging by the high attendance and an air of calm, it is hard to believe that two schools, in the northern governorate of Homs, were the scene of a gruesome double bombing earlier this month. A majority of the children, still deeply affected by what they saw, are back in class and back down to the business of learning.
At the beginning of October, a double bombing rocked this neighborhood of Homs, leading to mass casualties and injuries. The explosions, which took place near the Akrama Al Makhzomi and Akrama Al Mouhdetheh Elementary Schools happened after class. 30 children were among the 50 people who died in the attack.
“These children are sending a powerful message to the world – they want to continue their education despite the threats and the violence,” said Hanaa Singer, UNICEF Representative in Syria. “The resilience and steadfastness of the children at Akrama is a clear indication of the strength and courage that Syrian children continue to show despite four years of conflict.”
“I heard the noise, everyone was running,” a 4th grade student recalls. “I just ran like the other kids. I saw mummy waiting by the corner. We ran together. I was happy to be home. This is all what I can remember. I couldn’t eat that day.”
Since the attack, UNICEF has been working with local humanitarian actors and NGOs to roll out a range of psychosocial support activities for children who witnessed the incident, to help them recover and encourage them to regain their confidence and desire to return to school. Activities include recreation and play for children and training for teachers so they can provide psychological support to children. Children have also taken part in re-painting a perimeter school wall that was damaged in the blast.
UNICEF helped to refurbish damaged water and sanitation facilities at the Akrama Al Mouhdetheh School, and has launched long term psychosocial support programs through local partners for children in Homs and other affected governorates.
Meanwhile, tension remains high in the neighborhood. Additional security check-points have been set up and the city is still on the edge. Parents mill around the schools to make sure their children are safe. Others who have still not decided to send their children back to school just yet, pass by to assess the situation.
“It is not easy to start class every morning after an incident like this,” says Maisa, a First Grade teacher. “Many families are fearful of letting their children return to class.”
“My dad said we couldn’t go to school until my elder uncle said yes,” says Lamia, a Fifth Grade student who missed one week of school. “Then my uncle decided we should go, because education is our future. I was happy to see my friends to make sure they were alive.”
Schools are not being spared in this conflict. Another attack on a school was reported on October 26 in Aleppo city, in northern Syria, killing one child.
“Education is a basic right of every child. Schools should always be protected as safe havens and should never be targeted. Attacks against schools are not only grave violations of rights of the children but they are also a disgraceful violation of International Humanitarian Law” says Singer.