Israel Heeds Syrian Lessons By Preparing Schools for Emergencies

Among the victims of the ongoing Syrian conflict are over 100,000 who have been killed and many more who have been injured. But they are not the only ones paying the price for the chaos that has erupted in the country since the fight between government forces and opposition to the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad escalated into civil war.

All around the country, parents, teachers and school workers are trying – and in many cases failing – to keep classrooms operating amid the violence. Meanwhile, children are staying home because getting together anywhere, even in out-of-the-way houses hosting clandestine classrooms, has become increasingly unsafe.

The Syrian conflict offers grim lessons to other countries in the Middle East that live with the constant fear of violence, even in times of relative peace. And at least one neighbor has been heeding those lessons well.

Making sure that not just students but also families and other school staff are prepared to function in such conditions, while keeping risk to a minimum, is the task of Corporal Nestia Golubovsky who, in her capacity as the Israeli Defense Force Civil Emergency Instructor, travels all over the country teaching communities how to cope with sudden emergencies.

Golubovsky’s lessons cover a broad range of topics, from knowing who to contact in the case of emergency to how to get to safety in case something happens to the school. Today, that means giving a lesson on fire safety at a school in Israeli Arab village of Kfar Qara in Northern Israel.

The school has been participating in the program for a number of years. “I’m an educator, but I’m also a resident of Kfar Qara, a family man and a grandfather,” the principal says. “The work of the Home Front Command here is enormously important. We need to be able to help ourselves.” During Operation Pillar of Defense, rockets were falling in their dozens, and Kfar Qara was under threat like the rest of the country. The operation was a good example of the importance of the program, the principal says. “I recommend that everyone in the school participates, and I’d like to expand the program to the entire community.”

According to Golubovsky, when it comes to teaching about safety, it is sometimes easier to reach the adults through their children than approaching them directly. Especially, if – like Golubovsky – you don’t speak their language.

We walk into the classroom and a group of children ages eight to 10 greets us. Cpl. Nestia begins, and a staff member from the school translates her lesson sentence by sentence into Arabic. “Because I don’t speak Arabic I have to teach with a translator,” Cpl. Nestia says. “This makes dialogue with the students a bit difficult, because it means I can’t ask as many questions.”