Even in Syria, it’s back-to-school time

Amid ru­ins of one re­bel­held sub­urb, kids still show up for first day of class

The Dallas Morning News - - World - Megan Spe­cia, The New York Times

Young boys wear­ing back­packs gath­ered in a Syr­ian ele­men­tary school Satur­day, smil­ing as they walked be­tween desks cov­ered in dust.

In the class­room, light fil­tered in through a gap­ing hole in the ceil­ing, with crum­bling con­crete and ex­posed steel bars sus­pended over­head. The build­ing was dam­aged at some point dur­ing Syria’s bru­tal six-year con­flict, which has turned this res­i­den­tial area out­side Da­m­as­cus, the cap­i­tal, into a bat­tle­ground.

In an­other class­room Satur­day, the me­tal grate cov­er­ing a win­dow was bent in­ward, the re­sult of a force­ful blast. The walls of the school build­ing were pock­marked by bul­lets and shrap­nel.

Amid such de­struc­tion, Syr­ian chil­dren re­turned to classes — de­spite the war still go­ing on around them — in the re­bel­held sub­urb of Douma on the north­east­ern out­skirts of Da­m­as­cus.

Gov­ern­ment airstrikes are still a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence in Douma, as Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s forces fight to wrest con­trol of the area from op­po­si­tion groups.

In­ter­na­tional mon­i­tor­ing groups say the gov­ern­ment has de­lib­er­ately tar­geted schools and hos­pi­tals in rebel-held ar­eas in the past.

In Douma, the bat­tles have been un­der­way since 2013. Airstrikes and ground bat­tles have left much of the city in ru­ins. The same day that school started, a Douma-based med­i­cal group re­ported that a strike on the area had wounded sev­eral peo­ple.

But at the lo­cal school, stu­dents grasped on to some sense of nor­malcy de­spite the con­flict around them.

The war has trun­cated chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion. The pro­tracted con­flict has re­sulted in the par­tial or com­plete de­struc­tion of more than 5,000 schools, ac­cord­ing to the of­fice of the U.N. High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees.

And with nearly 6 mil­lion Syr­i­ans dis­placed in­ter­nally and 5 mil­lion more who have fled the coun­try as refugees, lack of ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion has become a ma­jor is­sue.

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