“For four years I had waited for the moment when I could sit for the national Grade 12 exams. But the conflict in my city prevented me,” said 21-year-old Fatima*, who lives in the eastern governorate of Raqqa.
“In each one of those four years I studied hard and prepared well for the exams. But, every time, the exams were cancelled in my city and all my work went with the wind.”
In Raqqa, official Government institutions, including schools, were shut down and this forced many students like Fatima to consider quitting their education. The long conflict has also kept many of them from traveling to other areas in Syria to sit for the national exams.
“I went through moments of despair, but I promised myself that I wouldn’t give up. I cannot describe how I felt when I learnt that I would finally be able to sit for the exams in Hasakah this year.”
This year, Fatima is one of 267 Grade 12 students and 676 Grade 9 students who sat for their national exams in Hasakah. They took dangerous journeys to reach the exam centers, crossing active conflict lines from besieged and severely affected areas in the eastern governorates of Raqqa and Deir-ez-Zor. UNICEF and partners supported these students with accommodation, bursaries for transportation, nutritious meals, hygiene kits, stationery and condensed catch-up classes to help them revise for exams.
“I can now pursue my education and achieve my dream of becoming a nurse,” said Fatima. Unlike many girls in Raqqa, where armed groups place severe restrictions on girls’ access to education, she was able to sit for the official exams.
Another young woman who made the long and dangerous trip is 19-year old Ghadeer*.
Ghadeer, also from Raqqa city, was forced to drop out of school because of restrictions imposed on girls’ education. With no educational prospects, Ghadeer was pushed into early marriage and is now a mother of a 5-month-old baby girl.
“It was difficult for a girl to study in my city,” she said.
“All the schools in our area were closed down, and we were not even allowed to leave the house,” she explained.
After losing three years of school, Ghadeer was determined to continue her education. She prepared for the national Grade 12 exams at home.
“I decided to study at home by myself,” Ghadeer said.
Ghadeer was worried about travelling along the 5-hour journey on the dangerous road to Hasakah to reach the exam center. When her parents and husband did not support her, she had no-one to leave her baby with and nowhere to stay in Hasakah.
“I thought that all my study throughout the year was for nothing,” she recalled.
Ghadeer’s hope was revived when she heard that her cousin in the Grade 9 had travelled to Hasakah for his national exams and stayed at a UNICEF-supported shelter. Ghadeer’s grandmother offered to travel with her to help care for her baby while she sat for the exams.
“Giving my granddaughter a chance to take her exams gives me great happiness,” said Ghadeer’s grandmother, who does not know how to read or write herself.
“These young girls should have better life chances than we did and they can only achieve this through education,” she added.
When she arrived at Hasakah, Ghadeer was welcomed into a UNICEF-supported shelter where she stayed for the exam period. At the shelter, Ghadeer attended condensed catch-up classes to help her prepare for the exams.
“Being able to take the exams despite all the difficulties I’ve been through is a very important experience for me. It will make such a difference to my life.”
Since the time of this interview, the official results for the Grade 12 national exams have been announced. Ghadeer passed with high grades and hopes to continue her university education in English Literature and become a teacher.
*Names changed to protect identity