Hope for children in war-ravaged Al Wa'er, Syria

The Syrian province of Homs has been a fiercely fought battleground in the civil war between Bashar al-Assad's regime and opposition fighters. It is prized for its strategic location in the middle of the country.

While government forces took control of Homs City three years ago, rebels only surrendered the district of Al Wa'er in May this year. Before the war Al Wa'er was home to around 300,000, but the constant fighting and a lack of basic supplies saw many flee the area. It now has fewer than 30,000 residents.

But what was once a story of survival is now one of hope.

It's been said education is a refuge in adversity, and at Al Kindi primary school it couldn't be truer. Many of its students were born after the conflict began, and only now are learning what life is like in relative peace.

More than half the schools in Al Wa'er were either destroyed or turned into shelters for the homeless. Extensive rebuilding was needed to open Al Kindi, where the children are taught in two shifts a day to accommodate the numbers.

The school is rudimentary, with no luxuries like musical instruments or sports equipment. For Al Kindi's 500 pupils, there is just one football to share.

There can be little doubt of the hell this community has been through. Even now, six months after the fighting ceased, the straight roads of Al Wa'er are virtually empty. They were a favourite hunting ground for snipers.

Not only did the people of Al Wa'er have to contend with the destructive force of the fighting, but because of the siege they were literally starved of basic needs, food, medical supplies - the effects of which are still being felt.

The siege had a severe effect on health services, with hospitals and clinics partially or completely destroyed. Even when trucks with essential supplies were able to cross the siege lines many residents were too frightened to take advantage. Malnutrition rates soared, particularly among children under five.

There are also astonishing stories of bravery, such as the nurse who made house calls during the fighting when mothers were home bound through fear.

It's a glimmer of hope in a bleak landscape, and for the time being perhaps the greatest lesson on offer is learning to be children again.


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