Principal Vows to Open School in East Aleppo Tomorrow Despite Violence

PHOTO: Syrian children attend a class at a primary school in Aleppos rebel-held eastern district of Shaar on May 7, 2016.
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Airstrikes on east Aleppo have forced most schools to close, but one school in the besieged city is due to open tomorrow on the first day of the new school year.

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“We risk death and attacks and experience many difficulties, but that doesn’t prevent us from doing our job,” Principal Mohamad Faisal told ABC News. “At the end, these are our children and we are responsible for them. The least we can do is to teach them how to write and count.”

The school is located inside a mosque and its classrooms are lit by battery-powered lamps because there’s no electricity, he said. School supplies like pencils and notebooks are very limited and there’s not enough drinking water.

The sound of warplanes overhead can bring everything to a halt. “When there’s any sound of planes, the teacher and the students become very anxious and concerned. If it continues like this, we will have a whole generation deprived of an education,” said Faisal, adding that many parents keep children home from school out of fear for their safety.

When warplanes are flying back and forth across the sky, they move the lessons down to the ground floor, Faisal said. Other times, when airstrikes are heavier than usual, they move to students’ homes and lecture some 10 to 20 children at a time.

What's most difficult, said Faisal, is seeing students who "live in poverty, with no mom or dad. Many of them have had health issues and contagious diseases like scabies."

The school itself has not been bombed, he said, but some of the surrounding buildings have been completely destroyed by airstrikes. In 2014, about seven students were killed in their homes in airstrikes, he said.

The school year in east Aleppo was supposed to start earlier this month, but due to the dangers of the war, the beginning of the school year was postponed until tomorrow. Now, a recent upsurge in violence has forced most schools to remain closed, according to Save the Children, an international organization that supports children.

Locals and activists say that government forces and Russia have used bunker-buster bombs to target people sheltering underground, forcing even schools that have been moved to basements to close. More than 300 children have been killed or injured in eastern Aleppo in the past five days, said Save the Children.

“We’re now more likely to see children being pulled from the rubble or treated on the floor of a hospital than sat at a school desk. Children deserve the right to play, to learn, to be children. The use of bunker-busting bombs means there is literally nowhere we can keep children safe, and we want to see the use of these weapons investigated as a potential war crime,” said Nick Finney, Save the Children’s country director for northwest Syria, in a statement.

Even before the latest escalation in violence, most children in east Aleppo were out of school. The official enrollment figures have fallen to 6 percent. Up to 100,000 children are missing out on school, according to Save the Children.

“We are not going to school because the airplanes bomb any gathering,” a 12-year-old boy told Save the Children under the pseudonym Amjad. “When the plane comes we sit on the floor, afraid that things might fall above us. One of my friends died in the bombing -- he was my best friend. I love to go to school to study and I wish I could become a civil engineer to rebuild the houses that were destroyed.”

Airstrikes intensified after the Syrian military declared an offensive against eastern Aleppo on Sept. 22 -- a few days after announcing that a U.S.-Russia-brokered cease-fire had ended. Activists say that government and Russian forces have used bunker-buster bombs to target people sheltering underground and cluster bombs to maximize the number of injured and killed in Aleppo.