Syrian refugee students celebrated Zakat Foundation of America (ZF) sponsorship for their primary school in Gaziantep by trying on brand new uniforms. The school, located in the heart of Gaziantep, lies within walking distance from home for the 450 students.
The school opens its doors to Syrian children between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., after the Turkish students and faculty have left for the day. It will stay open through the summer, employing an accelerated program aimed at getting the children ready to start the new year at grade level, according to ZF Middle East programs coordinator, Noura Almasri, who added that the school’s location is a benefit in itself.
“The first school we sponsored is on the outskirts of Gaziantep, so we transport 600 students there every day,” Ms. Almasri said. “It is costly, but of course those children need to be in school. It is worth every penny. But we want to open more schools like this new one, right in the city so the children can walk there, their parents can go to the school if they need to talk to the teacher, and we can put more money into students, supplies and teachers.”
The two schools’ teachers, also Syrian refugees, are paid through ZF sponsorship. These educators are dealing with challenges that did not exist before the war in Syria, like the second-shift schedule.
But the major challenge is teaching children who have been traumatized by having to leave their homeland and become refugees.
Fatima Hakan, a graduate student at a major U.S University, is studying the educational system in place for Syrian refugee children in Turkey and spoke with ZF staff about her observations. She said that few of the children she has observed in the ZF-sponsored schools directly experienced bloodshed or violence, but the stress of leaving home and hearing their parents talk about the conflict can make learning difficult.
“Across the board, teacher training is necessary to help educate the staff on how to deal with the students who have experienced trauma, and help them with the challenges they face now,” Ms. Hakan said.
“More importantly,” she said, “since the staff are also Syrian, they need to process and learn how to cope with what has happened to them throughout the conflict.”
Ms. Almasri said this kind of teacher training is in the planning stages.
“We want the teachers to be well prepared,” she said, “And we want the kids to love going to school.”
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Names and places have been changed to protect the identity.