Rekindling Hope: Othayma's Inspiring Return to Learning
23 June 2023
“When I was three years old, I remember my father telling me he would come and pick me and my sister up from our aunt’s house, but he never did,” said Othayma. She is now 15 years old and lives with her sister Nawara, 12, and grandmother Othayma, 66, in Nashabieh town in rural Damascus.
Prior to the conflict, Othayma lived happily with her father, mother, and sister. Sadly, she lost her mother and father to the conflict.
Othayma’s grandmother had sought refuge from the conflict in neighbouring Jordan but as soon as she heard about the passing away of little Othayma’s and Nawara’s father in 2012, she packed her bags and retuned to Syria. “I had no money, no place to go to. For three years, we stayed on the streets, at bus stations and in public parks. Then one day, a good man offered us a room to stay in. It had been used to shelter displaced people,” said the grandmother.
“I helped other women to cook for a living,” she added. After seven years, when life was becoming increasingly expensive, Othayma and her granddaughters moved back to their hometown in Nashabieh. They stayed in her sister’s house, damaged during the conflict years.
The girls were out of school during the displacement. After their return to Nashabieh, things felt more stable, and their grandmother encouraged them to go back to learning.
“I know how to write some letters and numbers as I used to watch my cousins do their homework attentively. Sometimes, I’d cry at night as I desperately wanted to go to school,” said young Othayma.
In 2022, when the girls and their grandmother returned to their hometown, the primary school in town was visibly damaged from the conflict and its few functional classrooms were overcrowded with students.
"When I first saw the school after our return, it made me feel sad. All the holes on the walls and the big damage to the surrounding area were not welcoming. I didn’t want to go there. After a while, I passed by the school and the streets around it looked clean. Workers were painting the walls. I was curious and excited to go there."- Othayma, 15 years
A few days later in December 2022, the grandmother enrolled both Othayma and Nawara in the primary school.
UNICEF, in partnership with UN-Habitat, began joint rehabilitation works in several schools to provide children a safe environment to learn. Othayma’s school was one of them.
UNICEF’s support included repair works to restore additional classrooms for students to learn in. The rehabilitation equipped the schools with handrails in corridors and ramps in entrances, making the school more inclusive for children with disabilities. UNICEF also carried out water and sanitation maintenance works, including the rehabilitation of the water well in Al-Nashabieh primary school. Complementing UNICEF’s efforts in bringing children back to safer schools, the UN sister agency UN-Habitat installed solar system lamps in the streets surrounding the schools, repaired the sidewalks in the area, planted trees around the schools, installed shaded seats and traffic signs and placed road bumps to ensure passing vehicles would slow down to enable students on foot to arrive safely to school.
“When I hold the pencil to draw, I forget all about the bad things and memories. I start dreaming of a future where I will be a happy and successful woman who can reward her grandmother for being a good person and for everything she has done for me,” said Othayma. She currently studies the ‘Curriculum B’, an accelerated learning programme, supported by UNICEF. The programme helps children who have missed out on their education to catch up to their peers. Othayma has also discovered her love for arts at school and wishes to become a painter or a hairdresser in the future.
"When I hold the pencil to draw, I forget all about the bad things and memories. I start dreaming of a future where I will be a happy and successful woman who can reward her grandmother for being a good person and for everything she has done for me," said Othayma
Since 2022, UNICEF has supported the light rehabilitation of 55 schools across Syria, benefitting more than 24,000 children with access to a safe education environment. The works were made possible thanks to contributions from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) through the KFW Development Bank, Governments of Finland and Japan, the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation. Also, these activities are part of the UN Joint Programme to Build Urban and Rural Resilience and the Conditions for Recovery in Syria, through UNICEF, and they have been implemented with support from the European Union and the Government of Norway.
For more information about the UN's work in Syria, please visit syria.un.org.