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June 26, 2020

Syria’s medical staff take online courses during COVID-19


Agricultural students in Syria take exams via their mobile phones © 2018, SPARK

COVID-19 lockdown doesn’t stop our partners from implementing much needed training courses in Syria.

This time two years ago, Ahmad* was sitting in a quiet local cafe in Homs, glued to his phone, a Nokia 3610. Having studied for months for his degree in Agriculture, all his plans to graduate and start his own farming business had come crashing down when the Syrian government offensive destroyed the institute he was studying at. 

The Institute of Agriculture Technology (IAT) was forced to suspend teaching after being bombed and the 81 students that had been due to take their final exams were left without options. “We were losing the students”, explained Shady Hassan, Project Officer at SPARK, at the time. Many of the students were debating whether to leave the area before graduating in search of safety. “By using the online exams, 51 of them could graduate”.

Ahmad* in Homs, Syria, taking a phone exam by SPARK and the Institute of Agriculture Technology (IAT) © 2018, SPARK
Ahmad* in Homs, Syria, taking a phone exam by SPARK and the Institute of Agriculture Technology (IAT) © 2018, SPARK

Ahmad, having logged onto the cafe’s satellite internet connection, received the timed test to his phone. His answers were then marked and verified by his teachers, and he received his certificate a few weeks later. 

Since 2018, Syria’s political landscape has changed a lot. The ongoing proxy war has not ceased, and the opportunities for young people have shrunk even more. Worse still, the Syrian Interim Government in the north of the country recently announced a full lockdown for the young and old, as well as a travel ban between cities, due to the presence of COVID-19. Yet, a decade of war and displacement has arguably made Syrian people some of the world’s most resilient. In the Turkish-controlled north of the country, SPARK is now supporting these motivated young people working in key industries – healthcare and business.

Since the targeted bombing of hospitals and healthcare professionals has continued in much of Syria, the healthcare centres and hospitals in the north are overwhelmed. Thousands of volunteers are supporting these centres, but volunteers lack training or official certificates.

95% have access to a smartphone and 80% have strong internet connection

SPARK recently conducted an extensive analysis of the digital capacities of over 1,500 Syrian young people living in the north of the country. Over 95 percent said they have access to a smartphone and surprisingly, almost 80 percent reported having good internet connection most of the time. Among those surveyed, almost three in five had previous experience with online learning; a promisingly hospitable environment for new online learning tools. 

Digital diaspora
The Syrian diaspora now spans almost every nation on Earth. The forced exodus over ten years has expatriated the majority of Syria’s most highly qualified people, including doctors and medial professionals. However, one organisation, SEMA – the Syrian Expatriate Medical Association, is helping return the diaspora’s skills experiences to the people still living in Syria. SEMA’s team of trained doctors and medical staff are delivering virtual healthcare training to 100 selected volunteers and students in Afrin. Their qualifications will be certified by the Turkish Directorate of Education and we expect that all graduates will be hired by the Turkish Directorate of Health in hospitals and healthcare centres in northern Syria.

First SEMA online training of healthcare professionals by SEMA and SPARK © 2020, SEMA

SEMA’s project coordinator said, “our goal is to educate and empower experienced nursing and midwifery youth staff inside Syria, and secure sustainability through formal certificates that meet the needs of labour market and deeply promote the quality of provided healthcare services.”

While healthcare is one of the most vital industries, to boost the creation of new and sustainable jobs in Syria, the number of commercial businesses needs to increase. Orange, our local partner in Turkey, is now offering online activities and training for entrepreneurs in Syria too. With a selection of 300 applicants, prospective entrepreneurs will be taken through the whole process, from business idea to startup. Battling against the COVID-19 limitations, 35 businesses from the training will win valuable seed funding after an online business competition that will focus on companies supporting the fight against coronavirus in some way.

These new businesses, and all employers in general, need qualified and skilled employees. There are thousands of young, ambitious people in Syria that have lacked access to formal higher education or work experience opportunities, yet are more than capable and motivated to work. With local organisations, Kudra and Ataa, we’re providing online courses during COVID-19 in technical vocational education and training (TVET) and soft skills, such as communications, monitoring and evaluation

Despite nearly 120,000 displaced Syrians returning to Idlib this month after a cease-fire brokered by Turkey and Russia, many thousands still remain in the camps bordering Turkey, unwilling or unable to return to regime-controlled areas. Ataa was recently supported by the Sheikh Abdullah Al Nouri Charity Society to build a training centre in Afrin, close to the sprawling camps.

New Ataa training centre in Afrin, supported by the Sheikh Abdullah Al Nouri Charity Society @ 2020, Ataa

Once the COVID-19 lockdown is lifted, Ataa’s new building will play host to SPARK training in carpentry, and other vocational skills. Until then, SPARK’s partner organisations in Syria are turning desperate situations into opportunities that could outlive the COVID-19 crisis. By digitising training and providing online courses, we hope in the future to broaden our reach to the most marginalised, vulnerable and displaced youth. Allowing them the chance to build their futures, from home, from their mobile phones.  

 

*Name changed to protect identity.