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September 8, 2016

No Future for Syria without Good Education

An op-ed, published in a local newspaper, by Subhe Mustafa (SPARK country manager in Syria) and Giselle Schellekens (SPARK Programme developer) on how to rebuild Syria after the conflict (Dutch below):

This week, more than, ever it became clear how grim the future looks for the Syrian city of Aleppo. In addition to the horrible images of families on the run and children burning car tyres in order to prevent aerial attacks, the Dutch minister, Koenders, warned of the treat of genocide in the city. Perhaps even genocide comparable with Srebrenica or Rwanda.

He wasn’t the only one; the Dutch representative in Syria, Koos van Dam, also sketched a less than hopeful picture of the city’s future. In an interview with Het Parool on the 2nd August, he confirmed that the end of the conflict is still out of sight. He said that even when a future compromise between the two warring parties is reached, a long road of rebuilding will still await.

SPARK is currently active in Syria and all its neighbouring countries to assure that Syrian refugees will have access to education. Through our projects we experience the complexity of the conflict on a daily basis. Therefore, SPARK is in full agreement with Koenders’ call for direct humanitarian aid in Aleppo.

However, what we miss in this debate is how the international community of today can play a part in the rebuilding of tomorrow, without having to wait for an immediate resolution to the conflict. We want to prevent the international community from only paying attention to humanitarian aid, while turning a blind eye to activities focused on rebuilding. This approach will lead to the continuation of migration flows even after the conflict has ended, due to the lack of opportunities for the community that stays behind. This mistake has already been repeated too many times in the past. In order to rebuild Syria we will have to anticipate on what will be needed after the war has ended.

Thus far, more than 50% of the educated people have left the country, a large percentage of which went to Europe. The time it will take to rebuild the country will be significantly shorter if we pay attention to it now and not later, by allowing Syrians to access education in the neighbouring countries. Currently, only universities in the areas controlled by Damascus are still open; the ones in areas governed by the opposition are not. This is why SPARK especially focusses on these areas, to make sure that people in these regions will also be well-prepared for rebuilding their own country once the conflict is over.

SPARK believes that the international community should not let this opportunity go to waste.

Without a direct investment in the education system there will be no one with the knowledge needed to revive the country after the conflict

In cooperation with the University of Aleppo, we have taken the first steps towards supporting the existing Syrian educational institutes, in order to create new foundations to build the National Syrian University. Soon, this university will be ready to educate 50,000 students locally – students who were forced to end their studies due to the outbreak of the conflict. They are students with a strong sense of responsibility, who want to create a better future for their families and their country.

Within this initiative students will take courses on topics that will be vital for rebuilding, for instance, engineering and psychology. Therefore, they can immediately start rebuilding the country physically, whilst providing help to traumatised citizens.

Jawad Abu Hatab, President of the Interim Government, told SPARK on Friday that “education is our main priority because this will lead us to peace”.
SPARK cooperates with this interim government to promote education. There will be a National Education Counsel that will monitor education activities; we will create the foundation for a higher education system in Syria; we will also work to achieve international recognition of educational certificates obtained in Syria, which will directly improve opportunities for Syrian graduates.

While SPARK agrees with the international call for humanitarian aid in Aleppo, we also recognise that it is vital to rebuild the education system within Syria. Without a direct investment in the education system there will be no one with the knowledge needed to revive the country after the conflict.

By Subhe Mustafa (SPARK country manager in Syria)
Giselle Schellekens (SPARK Programme developer)

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Please note: In August 2018 SPARK had no other option than to suspend the activities implemented by its partner organisations as the Syrian government took control in parts of the (until) then by SIG controller areas. Since August 2018 no activities have been implemented by our partner organisations in Syria/SIG controlled areas. SPARK has only been able to continue to support Syrian refugees in Turkey, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan.