The uprising in Syria against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad continues, and PBS NewsHour sent freelance journalist Toby Muse to document how civilians are coping with ongoing violence and instability — including how they’ll continue operating schools. Unfortunately, according to the images shown by PBS and Margaret Warner’s interviews with Syrian residents, many now feel that they’ve become targets both for the regime forces and those of the rebels – caught in the middle of one of the bloodiest civil wars in the country’s history.
One thing that offers hope, however, is the determination to continue on — especially for the children — even if that means sending them off to schools located in secret locations around the country. As Warner looked in on one school located in Northwest Syria, she observed as the students went on with their studies in mathematics, Arabic and English, despite the danger right outside.
If the location could be ignored, by the kids’ demeanor, it’s hard to imagine that all this is going on while outside the walls bloody battles rage:
QUESTION: What does he think when he hears the planes fly overhead?
CHILD (through translator): I don’t have any fear.
MARGARET WARNER: Run by teachers who asked to remain anonymous, this classroom was opened just weeks ago in al-Bab, a city of 120,000 less than an hour from Aleppo, and now ostensibly under control of the rebel forces of the Free Syrian Army, or FSA.
Although there are no Syrian government forces on the ground in al-Bab at the moment, shelling from airplanes and long-range artillery means that rebel installations are just as likely to be hit as civilians. In the last two months, at least six al-Bab schools were bombed – one by a MiG fighter jet in September, mere days before students were scheduled to return from summer vacation and resume classes.
This has made parents apprehensive about sending off their children, even to schools that have either not been targeted or have survived the attacks. This fear is what drove people to create “clandestine classrooms” like this, for students to continue their studies, even amid the chaos.
ABDUL LATIF, opposition activist: We are all terrified from the situation, because we do not know when we will die.
MARGARET WARNER: Abdul Latif is an opposition activist in al-Bab.
ABDUL LATIF: It’s not the schools are the target only. It’s anywhere, anyplace. All places here in the city are a target.
MARGARET WARNER: On the day a NewsHour crew visited town, reports of a fighter jet approaching sent residents fleeing for safety.
Though reliable statistics are hard to come by, one activist group estimates more than 32,000 have been killed in the 19 months since the Syrian civil war began.
And, of those, the vast majority are estimated to be civilians.