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School Year Begins in Rebel-Held Aleppo

As summer ends and the school year begins, the Local Council of Aleppo, elected by residents in rebel-held areas of the city, is finding ways to schedule classes – sometimes held in tents, with students and teachers working through power cuts that can last up to 11 hours per day.

Written by Omar Hossino Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes

We spoke with Darwish Khalifeh, who works with the council, about the new challenges of educating Aleppo’s children.

I began working in humanitarian aid for the local council of Aleppo when the Free Syrian Army entered in August 2012, during Ramadan. As the state withdrew from our area and the Free Syrian Army took over, we decided that we had to do something to fill this void. Our Local Council of Aleppo was elected democratically in January 2013 [because] kids were no longer going to school, people needed medical attention, there were many problems.

Running a Rebel School System

Today, the school year begins. A lot of our schools have been destroyed by shelling. We are in the middle of a war and have very few resources, but we are trying to keep running the schools anyway. We use the same curriculum that the Syrian regime used [before the war], but we removed the nationalism class [that teaches about the Assad regime] from the curriculum. We kept religion classes. We don’t believe that we have the right to change [the substance of] those subjects until it’s [also changed] at a national level.

Aleppo has 110 schools that are still working under rebel control at the current moment; there are more in the wider province. We saw that there were many students who really wanted to learn. We have begun a project with civil society groups, going to small villages to open up tents and teach students in mini-schools. Every school has from 400 to 800 students.

About 30 percent of our teachers are longtime Syrian teachers who taught during the days when the regime was in charge. Others are educated civilians who are not professional teachers; some of them were college students and are well-educated enough to teach [basic] lessons to the students.

Surviving on Basics

We spend most of our money on basic services, specifically electricity, as the regime keeps shelling different areas. There have been 11 hours without electricity today. You now have two legal systems in Aleppo: one is a religious court, and the other is the united legal system of Aleppo, which has lawyers and people experienced with Syrian law.

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We are giving basic services to the people, we are organizing schools, we have civil society working with people. There is a real atmosphere of freedom, nobody [in Aleppo] kills [council workers]. We protest against the religious [fighter] brigades. We protested in front of them a few weeks ago and they did not hurt us. We are currently living in great freedom in the liberated areas [while] the regime killed 1,400 people, including children with chemical weapons.

I differ 100 percent from the religious extremists. I do not agree with them at all. But I will say one thing: they protect me. I live right on the front [near] the regime [areas]. If these extremists disappear, then the regime will come kill me and my family.

In Aleppo, if someone has some bread, we believe it is not just for that person but for his neighbors. Everyone is volunteering and helping each other. A shell falls on someone’s house and everyone in Aleppo comes to that house to help out.

We have only had a few foreign journalists come here. We want humanitarian aid because this is an obligation on them as humans. [I have heard that] the regime has frozen funds all around the world. We think these should be freed up to help the Syrian people.

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