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Denied a future – ‘Illegal Syrian resident children attend ‘free’ school’

Salmiya, Kuwait Current Affairs August 20 @ 9:34am

free-schoolSyria’s civil war is one of the worst ongoing humanitarian disasters, and is showing no signs of abating anytime soon. Innocent Syrian civilians are suffering everywhere, and not only in Syria. Syrian children in Kuwait fled the war hoping for a better life here, but little did they know that doors would be slammed shut in their faces.

Children’s rights include education, but for Syrian children here, this is merely a dream. Schools in Kuwait only enroll children with valid residencies, which means many Syrian children without papers are excluded from the system. For more than three years, Mohammad has been pleading with schools in Kuwait to accept his children. “I told them that I have an iqama, and I can pay the fees in full, but to no avail,” he said. He has five children aged 5, 6, 11, 12, and 14.

Mohammad, who has been in Kuwait since 1996, is afraid to send his wife and children back home. They came to Kuwait on a family visit visa in 2012. Since then, the five children do not attend school as all schools have refused to accept them. “My elder son had a dream to become an engineer, but now he is 14 years old and cannot even read or write. He does not want to study anymore and his dream has faded. It hurts to see your child grow up to be just another worker,” Mohammad lamented. He said a new school opened four months ago for such Syrian kids, but it will not give students any degree – just keep the students updated with other regular students in similar grades. Mohammad was in tears while speaking to Kuwait Times, explaining how happy and sad he was last week when his 11-year-old daughter entered the room with a smile to tell him she got perfect marks in school. “She told me about her dream of becoming a doctor or a pharmacist and work with her uncle,” he said.

Mohammad’s wife, who did not want to be named, told Kuwait Times that she was born and raised in Kuwait, but because she was in Syria for a long time, she lost her iqama. She said her son is an intelligent boy and she hates to see him losing hope. “Three years were spent with no school, until the Syrian school opened. But we know that it is not a real school, and our kids will not have a decent degree or go to college after finishing their education,” she rued. With a small apartment and big family, the mental health of the children is getting worse. “My older son has started going to work with his father, who is a building contractor,” the mother said. She is afraid all her children face a bleak future. Her two young girls were playing around, climbing on the couch and having fun with big smiles on their faces. “You see those smiles. I’m afraid they will lose it after a while, like what happened with my elder son. How can I explain to them that we tried everything to achieve a better life for them? Their father is making a good salary and helps his orphaned brothers and sisters. He also tries very hard to put a smile on his children’s faces. But we are doing this with broken hearts, knowing that our kids will have no decent future,” she cried.

Makeshift School Dr Mohammad Al-Dughaim, the director and the founder of the “Teach me a Letter” Syrian school for boys, told Kuwait Times about the school and its activities. “Because of the situation in Syria, some Syrians had to bring their families to Kuwait on visit visas, but they overstayed and never went back because of the war. Some have expired iqamas, and some came to Kuwait with no documents, so the schools did not accept them,” he explained. “This is why we started our school – to make these students get their right of education. Many thanks to Al-Najat School that provides us with this building to teach Syrian students who have been away from books for years.

The Al-Najat Charitable Society adopted the idea of the school and facilitated us to legally work to provide education to Syrian children. Al-Najat will also provide free books to the children in the new school year,” he added. The school started in April this year by accepting students from primary to 12th grade.

Teach me a Letter School applies all the rules of a real school, including rewards and punishments. It has 550 male students and 500 female students and is still accepting more. The school does not give the students any certificate because it is only functioning as a means to keep students attached to their books and education. Dughaim is working hard to communicate with the ministries of education and interior to look at the Syrian students’ files with a humanitarian perspective. According to Dughaim, the school has four categories of students – those on family visit visas, those with expired iqamas, students who left their identification papers in Syria and have no papers to prove their identity, and students with financial issues. “For those in the last category, Al-Najat is planning to sponsor them and help them attend regular school,” he said.

Labor of Love Dughaim said the school is making sure that the students get an education according to their age, so when they become legal residents, they can pass tests to determine their education level. The ministry will then decide in which grade to enroll them. “This is so that the students do not lose any years. Most of my students have perfect intelligence according to their age, but some students have learning difficulties, so we hold special classes for them to help them get back to their actual grade level,” he said. All the teachers of the Syrian school are volunteers, and next year Al-Najat will award and honor teachers who dedicate their time and efforts to help the students. The Syrian school runs in the evenings from 4pm to 8pm four days a week, and is planning to add one more day.

Students study subjects such as Arabic, English, math, sciences and religion. The school is also planning to hold more classes and activities. “We try our best to study the circumstances of a student and make sure that the student deserves to be here and is not attending any other school and wants “free classes” to do better.

The school is only for needy children who cannot attend any other school in Kuwait. I wish people stop taking advantage of our efforts because we only have limited seats,” he said. “The only challenges that we still face is that we need more teachers for many subjects. They are hard to find because you need someone who is committed and has time to teach these students four days a week.” The school provides textbooks for free to the students, and is planning to adopt a formal uniform to make the students feel that they are in a real school to boost them psychologically. “This is why we have a psychologist to listen to students’ problems, and we always ask parents to let us know about the situations at home to follow up with the students,” said Dughaim. “Parents have thanked us for making their kids feel better, more active and happier to learn how to read and get back to school after years at home.”
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