The Blog

Back to School? Not for Thousands of Children in Syria

Like many parents, I have just sent my children back to school for the start of a new academic year. I issued the usual words of encouragement - and a few warnings about how hard work will affect their future. But then I found myself giving thanks that they have a school, that they have an education.

Education is one of the first things lost to displaced or refugee families. What will the future look like for them?

I thought of a family in Aleppo, Syria. The area they used to live in became one of the most dangerous in the city, so they were forced to move. As a result, the father lost his job - they could not afford to send their six year old daughter to school. Now they have to live in a one-room house which has a small kitchen and a toilet. They have no beds and the family of four sleeps on mattresses on the floor. They can't afford fuel for heating and layer on blankets to keep warm.

Another family with older children tell us that most of their children's classmates have left the country - and their children ask their parents why they can't leave as well. Their father lost his workshop in the war leaving them with no income, the children suffer nightmares and are malnourished. Distance learning isn't an option - there has been no internet in Aleppo for months now. These families are some of the lucky ones, they have a roof over their head, they have food to eat and they are alive.

According to the United Nations, the shortfall in funding has already meant 1.6 million refugees inside Syria have had their food assistance cut this year and 750,000 children are not attending school. Most agencies are focusing on refugees and work outside Syria - Open Doors is one of the organisations helping those still there. That's why we're stepping up practical relief inside Syria.

The aid we provide is distributed by pastors - amazingly dedicated, brave people - who could leave but have chosen to stay and help. Some have sent their families out of the country, but have remained behind because they are so committed to staying and helping the churches which are overflowing. These pastors are helped by volunteers from their churches who are working tirelessly to improve life for others.

Sunday schools are expanding. That's one of the ways we have been able to help the older children I mentioned earlier; they are going to Sunday School, to at least get a bit of education. Their church leader, Pastor Samuel, encouraged them to meet in the church with other children who live in similar circumstances. He says: "At Sunday School they can sing, listen to Bible stories, and play indoors with other children. We can even offer the children a nutritional hot meal."

The children in Pastor Samuel's Sunday School are a snapshot of over 9,000 families we are helping with food and rent. But the fact is that much more food, more help, and more resources are needed. As Pastor Edward of the Alliance Church, working in Damascus, says, "The relief work is going on full power; the need is still growing in the city. Every few months, new waves of internally displaced arrive in the capital."

Practical support is going mainly to the internally displaced people who have been forced to move. The work is carried out through churches of all denominations, in almost every region of Syria, and by all kinds of people. Wherever the church remains, we are able to bring some relief.

With the eyes of the media understandably turned on the desperate scenes in Europe in recent days, my strong hope is that the thousands still in Syria, who are just as dependent on us for help, will not be forgotten.