Palestinian children fly kites at a school belonging to UNRWA in Gaza City on 12 March 2018 as a protest against US aid cuts (AFP)
Many students and teachers were anxious when the schools reopened in Syria and worried about the restrictive COVID-19 preventative measures.
In a feature dating January 14, UNRWA said that some students were hesitant to follow the new hygiene and physical distancing rules, afraid of stigma and bullying. UNRWA education staff in the Mikhael Kashour school in Aleppo realized this was a problem and reacted quickly.
With support of and in coordination with the protection team, a joyful activity called “COVID-19 magazine” was set up to support the students, intending to raise awareness of COVID-19, to alleviate concerns and to teach the students in a child friendly way how to adapt to the new situation.
All 393 students of the Mikhael Kashour School participated in the activity, including 70 students currently living in the very severely damaged Ein el Tal camp, where no playgrounds are left and basic infrastructure is largely destroyed. UNRWA provides daily transportation for them so they can continue their education in the city of Aleppo.
Together, the students prepared coloured papers with DOs and DON’Ts, assembled them and all created their own “COVID-19 magazine”. They also included messages on how to support each other and how to respect and follow the preventative measures necessary to stay protected from the virus and make sure it doesn’t spread.
A variety of activities, adapted to the age of the students, further helped them to understand that being united makes them strong. The youngest ones created colourful drawings, others did competitions. The older ones prepared television shows, where they passed on information as if they were real TV presenters.
All students were given re-useable, colourful facemasks and a bottle of hand sterilizer that they could then take home.
Thirteen-year-old Maryam is one of the 70 students who returned to the Ein el Tal camp and now joins the school from there. She had to flee from the camp when she was just a little first-grader, very happy to go to the school closer to her home. After having been displaced to Tartous, she continued going to a school there.
“We all wanted to return and came back two years ago, after my father repaired our house together with friends, over many months,” she said.
Commenting on her experience with the “COVID-19 magazine, she said, “We don’t have a lot of playgrounds where I live. I had a lot of fun during the activity and learned how to enjoy myself in a safe way. I am very proud that I can now explain to my family what we need to do to stay healthy and protected from COVID-19.” She added, “My dream is to see my camp how it was before and to go to my old school again.”
UNRWA said it will continue to provide protection activities and transportation to Maryam and all other students in Ein el Tal, so they can pursue their education in Aleppo in a safe and child-friendly way.
Re-establishing services in the severely damaged camp remains a priority for UNRWA. Maryam is a living example for this. Due to the Agency’s unprecedented financial crisis, critical services like those extended to the returning Palestine refugees in Syria are now in jeopardy, putting #PalestineRefugeesAtRisk.