An oasis of peace for pupils in the troubled Syria land

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Displaced Syrian children attend school in a makeshift classroom in the Azaz camp,
Displaced Syrian children attend school in a makeshift classroom in the Azaz camp,

A dozen steps separate the horrors of the daily shelling from an oasis of peace, an underground refuge where volunteers have set up what they say is now the only school in the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor.

After months of heavy fighting between rebels and troops of President Bashar al-Assad, the eastern oil hub on the banks of the Euphrates River is in ruins, its homes bombed and its streets littered with rubble and broken glass.

Deir Ezzor was once home to around 750,000 people, but the combat and the thud of bombs and mortar rounds has driven more than half a million to flee, including most of its teachers.

Worse than the shortage of materials here, with old, dog-eared textbooks having to be shared, is the lack of qualified teachers. Yasser Tareq is one of the founders of the school in the Al-Omal neighbourhood, which offers classes six days a week to an average of 50 children from across the city.

"Most of the teachers have fled, and very few people volunteer to help us with the classes because they are afraid," added Tareq, who was formerly chief of security for the area's oil wells.

And that fear, combined with common sense, dictates how the school operates. "Our classes are held in the evening, because it is much more dangerous in the day time," Tareq explained. But the shelling never completely stops, and "when they start to bomb, the children are terrified," said Beda al-Hassan, the school's principal.

"So what we do is sing songs with them and clap to the beat. Eventually we get them focused on the music and they forget about the bombs," she explained. "This isn't the sort of life children should have. None of this is their fault, but they are the ones suffering the most."AFP



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