In the middle of the bombed-out areas on the outskirts of Damascus in Syria, 800 pupils have finally received clean water and brand-new toilets at their school.
The formerly fertile agricultural area outside the capital, Damascus, became the site of one of the most severe fightings during the Syrian civil war over the course of five long years. Thousands of people were killed, and the UN condemned, among other things, attacks on civilians, and on hospitals and schools.
Today, four years after hostilities in the area ceased, it still looks like a battlefield. But even if hardly one building has been rebuilt or properly rehabilitated, the former population is slowly returning. Primarily because everyone is poor and has nowhere else to live. The challenge is that they have very little other than their often badly damaged homes to return to. People lack electricity, water, schools, health services – they lack mostly everything.
In the middle of the ruins stands a primary school for 800 pupils between the ages of 7 and 12. The building suffered extensive damage that was repaired, and the first students were able to start again almost four years ago. For almost as long, the children have had to make do with the ruins around the school as their toilet facility.
NCA and our local partner acknowledged the acute problem with the lack of hygiene for the students, and just a few months ago brand new and beautiful toilets and sinks were ready. In addition, they can fill their drinking bottles with clean and safe water as often as they like.
"It can be easy to think that this is only about toilets and running water, but it has meant an enormous amount to both pupils and teachers. Before it was very difficult. Many stayed through the whole school day, and many had stomach cramps and pain. They couldn't wash themselves properly either, the parents complained, and the whole thing was just sad", says Eman, who used to be a teacher, but who has been the principal of the school for the last two years.
"With running water and great toilets, we immediately noticed an improvement, the pupils became more energetic and happier. Equally important is that they became more concentrated and calmer. Everyone is much better at our school now", says Eman and smiles at a group of cheerful girls from 1st grade who comes running to wash their hands.
"It wasn't any fun before. I had to go behind the school and it was disgusting, and I couldn't wash myself. I'm very happy that we got toilets and sinks from you", says Masa (7) while she washes her hands.
Like the vast majority of her classmates, she does not have drinking water at home. Previously, they had to bring expensive purchased water to school.
"Now I can fill my bottle as often as I want, that's good"!
"These are children of the war. Many of them have experienced horrors that no one should have to experience, and still the vast majority of them and their families live in very difficult conditions, without electricity or water or toilets at home. Therefore, I am very happy that they have proper facilities here at school. Here they will learn and become Syria's future", concludes principal Eman.
Photos: Norwegian Church Aid/Håvard Bjelland.