By Naeem, a Save the Children staff member working on our emergency response to the crisis in Syria
It is my first morning in Syria and after a tough journey I arrive outside a school that was attacked for the third time yesterday. It is now a shell of a building with blown out windows and crumbling walls. I have seen destroyed buildings on the news before but I have never seen one in real life. It looks as though it is from the set of an action movie.
I want to capture this indescribable scene on camera, but the moment I start taking photos people start to come out of nearby houses and surround me. No one wants any more attention on where they live in case it leads to more attacks.
I make my way inside the building and into what had been the classrooms. The blackboards are still on the walls, the desks are still in rows, but everything is coated in thick dust and rubble.
While I am speaking with some of the teachers from the school the sirens start to wail. I am instantly terrified as the sound is so loud and I can see how the expressions on the faces of the teachers change.
They tell me to run for the shelter, which will be the safest place if something should happen again. The shelter is in the basement of the school where all the old furniture and equipment is kept, but it is the best option there is. Everyone is certain that the school will be hit for a fourth time. On the radios we listen carefully to the reports of what is happening in the outside world. Time moves so slowly and every time I hear the name of the place we are in on the radio I feel my heart beat faster and louder.
Playing the hero
As a young boy I’m sure I wasn’t alone in dreaming of being like Tom Cruise in an action movie; you see yourself as taking the lead and helping people when something bad happens. You imagine yourself playing the hero. But in real life you feel helpless; you are a normal person who simply wants to survive.
For more than one hour I crouch on my knees with my hands over my ears. After a while we hear on the radio that another village was attacked instead. The people I am with say that we can get out now.
As I make my way outside I ask myself, ‘How should I feel right now?’ Should I feel happy because I am safe, or guilt because other people are dead? Or should I just feel anger?
Taking the back road
Today I am going to a village that is two hours away from our base; it shouldn’t take as long as it does, but we are using the small, unpaved farm roads not the main roads to avoid the fighting, shelling and snipers.
We arrive at the village and head straight to the school. But it is empty. It turns out parents in this village had heard about the attack on the school I went to yesterday, and have decided to keep their children at home. Everyone is petrified that schools are being targeted.
I walk around the empty school, its walls covered in bright paintings and children’s work. But it is the noise and energy of the children that gives a school its glory and its reason for existing. Without it everything feels sad and lifeless.
Out of school
It is my last day and I am in another village where I see many children working in a diesel market. This is hard and unhealthy work for adults so I cannot imagine what impact it is having on these children. Just a couple of days ago there was an explosion here, and many of the children are suffering from burns and other health problems. The team I am here with are working with the community to design a programme to get these children out of such dangerous conditions and back into school.
These children should be in school, but they have no choice but to work for a tiny amount of money to try and support their families. In the village school I see what these children should be doing right now; being children. Running around and playing without caring what is going on around them.
So many children in Syria are missing out on their education because of this conflict; a few days or weeks because of an attack, a few months or years because of displacement. How many will never return to class? And how will we rebuild this country if our youngest generation is illiterate?
Read Save the Children’s latest report on how the crisis has affected Syrian children’s education here.