How one Syrian group is helping kids get back to school

Orient Net - Al-Monitor 2016-02-03 12:07:00

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Some 2.1 million children are deprived of education in Syria, according to United Nations statistics released Feb. 2. About one-fourth of the nation’s schools cannot be used because they have been damaged or destroyed, or are being used to shelter displaced families or for military purposes.

To help children and women in areas where state institutions are absent, the Olive Branch Organization is active in Daraa, an opposition-controlled province in southern Syria. The organization, which relies on private donations, has initiated aid campaigns such as “My Room is My Classroom." That effort, launched in 2012, provided school supplies and toys to help make up for the shortages displaced children have suffered since regime forces stormed the Dara’a al-Balad and Tareeq al-Sadd neighborhoods.

On Jan. 26, the organization also opened the Zeitoun First Vocational Center, where various courses and activities are held, such as sewing, computer maintenance, management and marketing.

The organization’s chairman of trustees, Suhaib al-Zoubi, told Al-Monitor the organization opened its first school in December 2013, in Saida. The school was aptly named Dar el-Zeitoun, the Olive House for Education and Entertainment. This was followed by a succession of other schools in various areas of Daraa, the latest being the Ninth Olive Branch School, which opened in al-Shajara in October 2014.

“Each school includes a kindergarten, an elementary school and a psychological support center. The number of children benefiting from these schools is 3,111, ranging in age from 5 to 12 years old," Zoubi said. "The teaching staff numbers 106, chosen from among those possessing previous experience in elementary-level schooling, or those who attended training workshops held by the Olive Branch Organization.”

Some of those staff members traveled to Jordan for training seminars. They also participate in periodic Skype workshops, said Dima Mohammed, who heads child protection services for the organization.

In addition to establishing schools, Olive Branch has founded five cultural centers, the latest being in Jasim. The center hosts training workshops, events and activities, among them courses in English, information technology, first aid, basic nursing, calligraphy, drawing and photography. The center’s social workers oversee psychological support sessions.

Olive Branch depends on a number of donors, such as Save the Children in Jordan, the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Beitna Souria (Our Home Syria) organization in Turkey. One of Olive Branch’s biggest challenges is that it has no board of directors physically present in affected areas to assess progress; that is why it resorts to training follow-up teams to assess the projects’ effectiveness.