Maarat residents deal with suspension of education aid by establishing support fund
Enab Baladi – Idlib countryside
Residents of Maarat al-Numan, in the southern countryside of Idlib, have taken on the challenge of covering the damage caused by suspending education aid in the region by creating a fund to provide monthly payments to support teachers, who have worked as volunteers since the beginning of the current school year.
The fund provides small amounts of money for teachers as a moral boost to express the parents’ appreciation for their efforts, their keenness to maintain the education of their children and an invitation to sponsors to pay more attention to the region and the future of children.
Mustafa Zekra, one of the fund’s managers, told Enab Baladi that the reason behind establishing the fund, which was set up by a group of young activists, is to ease the challenging situation of education in northwestern Syria in general, and the southern countryside of Idlib in particular; as the majority of the humanitarian organizations abandoned their role in the cities, towns and villages, which have faced the dangers of the regime’s military campaign since the beginning of this year.
The fund managers started to form an internal committee composed of Maarat al-Numan residents and an external committee grouping expatriates to collect donations. Thus, the initiative exceeded expectations, according to Zekra.
Schools in north-western Syria have started the school year while suffering of a severe shortage of resources, following the suspension of support programs directed to educational institutions in the area, which had been funded by humanitarian organizations. Such adversity obliged the majority of teachers and schools to volunteer in order to save the school year, despite the difficult economic conditions which placed 83 percent of Syrians below the poverty line, according to the United Nations estimates.
The fund provided financial compensation to 225 male and female teachers starting from last October, worth 30.000 Syrian pounds each. Zekra believed that those limited amounts of money offered to teachers prevented the closure of several schools, where nearly 10.000 students receive education.
“Despite the small amounts offered to the teachers, this symbolic gesture is meant to support and tell them that they are not facing the crisis alone” Zekra said, adding that donations are flowing in continuously. Hence, the fund managers are hoping to increase the value of the compensations throughout the school year.
Good initiative… but still insufficient
The teachers in Maarat al-Numan held a meeting on 11 November, during which they drafted a statement to appeal to organizations and sponsors to re-activate support programs in the region, as the educational institutions are not only looking to find solutions to pay the teachers’ salaries, but are also in need for logistic aid in order to maintain the educational process in general.
The statement, of which Enab Baladi obtained a copy, pointed out that local and international organizations have suspended the support programs dedicated to the schools of Maarat al-Numan and its countryside since the beginning of last May, due to the security situation and the displacement of locals. However, the area is full of people now, and all of its schools are functioning regularly, with moderate rates of dropouts and resignations from the pupils’ and teachers’ part.
The teachers attributed the continuation of the educational process to the “keenness of the schools’ staff to save their institutions from collapsing”. They hoped that the fund would continue to support schools. Hence, they called on humanitarian organizations and specialized UN agencies to help the schools and pupils of Maarat al-Numan.
The teacher, Mehdi Qassoum, described the initiative of the Maarat al-Numan residents and the support fund as “moral”, pointing out that the amount of money offered to teachers is not enough to provide for their the families, each of whom needs at least $ 300 per month (about 200.000 Syrian pounds).
While speaking to Enab Baladi, Qassoum added that supporting education in Maarat al-Numan is an urgent necessity, with teachers insisting on “holding on to the end”, while blaming the Salvation Government, which controls the area, and calling on it to “assume its responsibilities”.
Teacher Qutaiba al-Haroush, a resident of the nearby village of Maar Shurin, believed that the idea of the support fund, despite the insignificance of its material value compared to actual survival requirements, constitutes “an important incentive for the teacher.”
Al-Haroush told Enab Baladi that the residents’ consideration, “despite their tragedies”, of what the teacher is going through makes him or her feel appreciated. He conveyed that the teachers in the village have deliberately taken a similar step and held a meeting to discuss the plan.
According to a report issued by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), on November 14, the education sector in north-western Syria needs $ 30.3 million to respond to the educational and psychological needs of 150,000 of the most vulnerable displaced children and 6000 teaching staff.
60 schools have been destroyed in north-western Syria since last April as a result of the shelling, and forcibly displaced people have occupied 94 other schools.
The report quoted an organization working on the ground that only half of the 1200 schools in the region are still functioning, administering less than half of the 650.000 school-age children, with an obvious lack of facilities for preparatory and secondary education.
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