The ongoing civil war in Syria has destroyed countless lives, families, and communities, and perpetrators have shown a disturbing disregard for international human rights and international humanitarian law.Read a selection of first-person accounts from Syrians who have directly experienced attacks on schools. Note: All names have been changed for security reasons.
On September 2nd, 2015, we went to visit my uncle’s family. At the time, we didn’t hear any shelling. My mother was holding my sister’s hand, my sister was holding my older brother’s hand, while my younger sister was holding her book.
After this, I don’t remember anything except smoke and immense heat. I couldn’t move my hands. I felt like they were tied, so I said the Shahada. I didn’t hear the rocket. All I remember was a red light and a high temperature on my body. I don’t remember who rescued me.
I opened my eyes and found myself in the medical unit. My father came rushing in, and passed by me without recognizing me. I called out “Baba.” He asked, “What happened to you?” I told him that I didn’t know, but my leg was cut off.
I started crying. He cried with me. He asked about my mother and sisters. I told him that I didn’t know. My father went to look for them in the other medical units. The next day, my father saw that my mother and sisters had passed away.
Nobody told me about what happened for two months. Every time I asked, they would say that their condition was critical and nobody could see them. However, I felt deep in my heart that something bad had happened.
One day, I went to visit my grandmother and I started crying. I told her that I wanted to see my mother and siblings, that I couldn’t handle it anymore since I had recovered and started walking, while they were not even out of the medical unit.
My grandma started crying and told me, “Don’t you believe in the Lord of the worlds and in His act? Your mother went to the afterlife, we will all go there but she went there first.” This was the biggest shock of my life: that they had died and left me.
On December 5th, 2016, I was in my room under the window studying for a geography exam. Suddenly I experienced a very familiar feeling. One of the shells from a cluster rocket landed in the room where I was.
I felt crippled. I couldn’t move and I felt a high temperature just like my first injury.
The one who started shelling us and started all of this is certainly President Bashar Al Assad. I don’t know what we ever did to him. We only wanted freedom. What was my fault? What did my siblings ever do to be killed?
Now, I am in grade nine. I study in Douma First School for Girls and I excel in science, Arabic and geography.
I think the way to help Syrian children is through victory, which is achieved when the shelling, airstrikes and siege are all over, when Syria is safe and sound.
We used to live in our house, near the school. I used to live all together with my father, my grandmother, my brother and my six sisters. I really liked our house and the neighborhood where we lived. After getting back from school and finishing my homework, my friends and I would go out to play.
In the past, when the airplane would approach, we wouldn’t be scared at all, and people would go on with their normal life. We never thought that we would be shelled.
The last time the airplane approached, I was in class on the last floor of school. When the first rocket hit, many students laughed. Others were really scared. I grabbed my stuff and my books while everyone else did the same. Then the airplane approached and hit once again. After the third strike, we got out of the class, gathered in the yard and started saying the Shahada [the Muslim profession of faith]. When the shelling intensified, everyone started running away, including the teachers.
I went to look for my sister. I left through the door which was hit by airstrikes and I found her waiting for me there.
On our way home, I remember seeing a child with an amputated leg. I don’t remember what happened to that child.
I also remember seeing a girl on a motorcycle with her face completely covered in blood and another girl in first grade with her guts out. She was saying the Shahada. I also remember an amputated hand holding a backpack.
The situation was really bad.
I headed towards the shelter where my parents were hiding. All of the glass broke in our house. My uncle’s house was destroyed and all of the schools were damaged. The houses surrounding the schools were also mostly destroyed. After this, we stopped going to school for a year. We had to leave our home three years ago. I resumed part of my studies in the camps and also in the schools organized in underground shelters.
Even now, I am scared of the class where I was. Since that day, I never returned to it and I don’t enjoy school like before. Every time I hear the sound of airplane, I get really scared, and we run away. Even the teachers get us out of school when we hear the sound.
I am currently attending “Kamal Kalaaji School” every day. I really like doing homework and studying. I like my English teacher a lot, more than the Arabic teacher because he explains English really well.
In the future, I hope to become a doctor and I hope that the war ends and that they stop shelling schools.
The day of the airstrike was a sudden day. I was with the cafeteria ladies and other employees preparing for lunch in the school cafeteria. We suddenly felt the glass and the windows shatter and fall on us. We were frightened because of this sudden airstrike.
I immediately went out to open the school doors, which is the only entrance to the shelter for the students. We took the students one by one to the basement for safety.
All of the children are orphans who were hurt by the regime and the shelling, so as soon as they hear the airplanes they start crying or shouting. The students come and they grab anything. They hold your hand, your pants or your shirt. The students feel as we protect them from death or from this shelling. Of course, it’s a big mess that you cannot control. The students, even the teachers, do uncontrollable things. Sometimes we noticed that the teachers are more scared than the children. Some would faint at school due to the intensity of the fear and collapse.
After the strike, we resumed work just like before. We don’t care about anything going on. In every moment we are subject to death, and we will continue to build what we can.
There is will to resist the regime. We feel hopeless and frustrated for a day or two, but as soon as the strike is over, we start cleaning the schools, streets or markets until we resume normal life. We start over.
During these times, you experience two feelings: one, a sense of pride towards the students and teachers, because despite the daily shelling, life goes on. Children are resisting death, teachers are ready to work under all circumstances because they know that the regime’s goal is to suspend schools with aims to end all signs of life in liberated areas. They resist this, and you get a sense of pride that in Syria, people like this do exist.
At the same time, you feel sad, because these orphans are oppressed and the teachers are oppressed. People in liberated areas in Syria only have God, as they say, “God, we only have you, oh God.”
Sometimes, you will hear some students say, “Sir, I am not scared of the airplanes. I will only die when my time comes.”
But many others want to seek revenge on the regime. When you try to convince them, they say, “No. My father was killed, I should kill today. What if I die, what if I die in the shelling? So I will carry weapons, to take revenge for my father and for the people who died as martyrs.”
The students have suffered a lot on a personal level. We try to foster, educate and raise the students appropriately so they will be an added value on the society. We try to tell them to continue their education. They will be the ones re-building the country.
I was in third grade when the schools were attacked. On the day of the airstrike, both my brother and I were at school. The glass from the window fell on one of the teachers. The teachers didn’t let us leave the school until after the third airstrike.
After we left, I saw children on the floor, and one of the teachers was under the rubble.
On my way home, I saw children taking their last breath. I saw a girl with a missing arm, holding her bag with the other arm and running away. Another man with missing arms was crawling on the floor, and teachers were fleeing with students. When I arrived home, all of the glass was shattered.
After, we moved to the camp where my sister lives and since then, I continued studying in the camps.
I live with my father, brother and six sisters. I currently study in “Kamal Kalaaji School.” I always go to school with my friend Taka and I like my teacher a lot. Also, I really like my neighborhood, relatives, neighbors and the English teacher.
Many times, though, I recall the shelling and how my had cousin fainted. In the future, I would like to become an Arabic teacher.
On October 26th, 2016, my husband dropped me off with the children at school, like he normally did. I took my three-month-old daughter to the nursery and went to class. It was a normal day.
Around 10:30 a.m., we heard the sound of an airplane. We know that when the airplane wants to shell, it makes a special loud and scary sound. The girls got scared and started screaming “Miss please.”
I quickly ran towards the door with the girls right behind me. The airplane hit the olive field east of the school. I calmed the students down and sat them back down.
A while after, we heard another sound from the airplane. At that moment, I sensed danger. I left everything at the table and the children left everything including their bags.
I started taking the children to the hallway so that nothing would happen to them. I had two teachers with me, Miss Jourin, May God rest her soul, who passed away in this shelling, and Miss Mariam. These two teachers went to the hallway and escorted their students.
We went downstairs, and at that moment, the airplane hit and we all held each other, not realizing what was going on.
After the sound ended, I saw the bodies of students on top of their bags. I don’t know how long I remained scared for.
I immediately ran to the nursery to see my small daughter and I found her there with another baby. I couldn’t believe when I saw that my daughter was unharmed, while all of the glass from the window was shattered around her. It could have killed her.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. I was so scared to the point that I let my children sleep next to me. My husband took a warm bath for half an hour so that the blood would circulate back in his legs from his injuries.
After, formal schools became a nightmare for all of the students and teachers. I cannot imagine going back to the same classes and same building. This is the worst form of oppression.
Small children were playing in the schoolyard only fifteen minutes before. Their only concern was to go to recess with their pocket money, to have fun, buy food, then go home to see what their mom was cooking and to study. This is the worst form of terrorism, killing children.
After the attack, parents refused to let their children study, even if it involved special courses at home. Eventually schools were organized in basements.
The children developed a fear of schools. School became like a nightmare. They feel scared just from seeing notebooks and pens. We reached a stage where my children refused to see pens and notebooks at home after seeing pens and bags filled with blood.
After witnessing this, they felt that the school was just too frightening. When I pass by the school’s neighbourhood, I also feel scared, because each time I pass I relive the unforgettable past.
When I was 6 years old, my cousin and I were shelled on the way to the grocery store. We were going to buy biscuits and he wanted to get a lollipop.
When we were in front of the grocery store, I didn’t hear or feel anything. I suddenly woke up at the medical unit after being rescued by one of my uncles. I was injured, but my cousin died.
Many injured children were there. I didn’t cry, but I was in pain. I still remember when they stitched my wound.
I still remember my cousin with his guts out after the injury. I cannot forget this. I am really scared of the airplane, and during the shelling I hid with my mother in the room and I prayed for our safety.
The shelling injured my leg, and I had to get a prosthetic leg at the Prosthetics Center. I trained on how to walk with the prosthetic leg for a while.
I really like school and I like learning how to write the alphabet, and playing “hide and seek” when we hide and our friends try to find us.
I am not going to school right now due to the constant shelling. They told us that school will start next Monday but shells kill people and I don’t know.
I would usually go to school with my friend Nada even with the airplanes and we never expected that the school would be targeted.
When the first rocket hit, the teachers and students tried to remain calm and tried not to go out to the square.
However, the second strike was the one that caused all the fear and chaos. Some of the children laughed while others cried. Unfortunately, I lost one of the teachers during the attacks on schools.
After the attack, I returned home and it was filled with broken glass, with children screaming and crying.
My father sent me with my uncle to the mountains in order to escape the shelling. The road was filled with frightening scenes: books covered in blood, body parts, people with severe injuries, people rushing to rescue the wounded while others were taking their last breath.
My friends hid in their basements, but we fled to the camps. While I was looking for my friends, I discovered that one of the rockets landed exactly where I fell when I was running away from school.
I used to like school a lot but right now, every time I leave school, I am terrified. Every time I hear the sound of the airplane I feel frightened. I remember the amputated hand holding the backpack.
I wish I could return to school with all the students but I still get really scared when I hear the sound of the airplane and I run with the other children away from school.
One day in the future, I hope to become an English teacher.
The day of the shelling was my day off. I remember I was going to the market in my car when people started running in every direction. I heard a loud explosion afterwards.
The explosion was 500 meters away from me. I got in my car and I drove towards the explosion with my brother. We tried to look for survivors when the second rocket fell 100 meters away from us.
We headed towards the explosion where there were two martyrs and some wounded. I recognized Mr. Ahmad Al Merhi and his son. I felt afraid at that moment. The third rocket fell 100 meters away from us. This was when the worst disaster happened. The scene was really painful. The rocket landed on the Girls School entrance while the students were fleeing from the school and the parents were going there to evacuate their children.
It was indescribable, martyrs everywhere, many casualties, cars caught on fire and dust everywhere.
I controlled myself and started rescuing the wounded. I tried to focus on wounded children who had a chance of being rescued. I would gather them and put them in my car, yet I would go past those who seemed to be dying since time was limited. My rescue job made me forget my son at school, who blamed me that evening for not evacuating him.
Among the children that I rescued was a girl from Al Sheikh family, she was injured by shrapnel between the shoulder and the neck. She was still alive when I rescued her. However, she passed away in the operations room.
This incident was truly a tragedy as the town lost 50 people and around 100 were injured. Sadness knocked on most people’s door.
From the educational and psychological side, the school’s infrastructure was destroyed, and the students were traumatized just thinking about going to school. This is when we, the educational staff, started looking for alternative methods.
We dealt with students differently than before the massacre, because we knew that the students’ psychological state was ruined after seeing the blood and destruction. After the massacre, they started having panic attacks when they heard the planes.
We tried to offer psychological support at school. We started doing entertainment activities in school like games, activities or competitions. We tried as much as possible to raise their spirits. This helped raise the percentage of attending students to 60%, and I expect that this will increase with the beginning of the coming academic year.
In my opinion, targeting the educational infrastructure such as schools or universities was an attempt by the regime to destroy a whole generation. Destroying a school or a hospital at a time of conflict will put it out of service for a long time and will disrupt its role.
Whoever was the reason behind this massacre and other massacres should be held accountable, the regime and the supporting countries such as Russia and Iran.
In December of 2015, I went to school with my friends. The reconnaissance aircraft was hovering heavily over us, but the shelling was far and medical units were sending calls for people to donate blood to the injured. The situation was calm.
During the last course of the day, the teachers didn’t want to dismiss us until the situation had calmed down and the airplanes had left. When we were leaving, I went to the other building inside the school where my cousin was and we were standing together with my neighbor.
All of a sudden, a cluster rocket landed and injured us all. My cousin passed away due to a shrapnel injury in the neck, and I was injured with a shrapnel in the leg. I tried to stand up and carry my leg. A part of it was still attached to me. Each time I tried to get up, I would fall down without realizing what was happening.
The entire schoolyard was empty, yet filled with blood.
I was transferred to the medical unit. The medical unit was filled with other children. The doctors tried to identify me, to see who I was. I saw them attach a piece of wood to my leg, but I didn’t understand why.
They didn’t have the necessary tools to treat my injury, so I was transferred to Hamouriyah. From there, I was taken to Kafr Batna where my leg was amputated. I woke up from the surgery without knowledge that my leg had been amputated. I didn’t see my mother until four days after, when she told me about my leg.
Afterwards, I was transferred to another medical unit in Douma for two days before I could go home. Then, I was going to school on crutches, before someone helped me get a prosthetic leg in Hamouriyah.
My family and I relocated to Mesraba after the regime broke into Douma. My father was killed at an army’s station.
In my opinion, we should help each other for the future of children in Syria. We should be united and help draw a smile on children’s faces.
When I get older, I want to become a Computer Software Engineer. This is why I am learning algebra and engineering at school. I used to dream about becoming a surgeon in order to help children, but my mother told me that this is really difficult for girls in our area, but easier in Damascus city.
I also dream that one day the war will end and we will all unite.
The day of the strike was just like any other day. A car came and took us to the school, and my son was with me, as he goes to nursery in the same school.
We usually hear the sound of airplanes and the children at school get scared and start looking at each other. I try as much as possible to make them not feel anything, and I try to make the situation seem normal. I even try to overcome my own fear.
The attack happened during the first period. I was giving them a lesson, and they became distracted when they heard the sound of the airplane, and that was it. They were focusing on the airplane.
The airstrike was launched. They made a loud noise. You want to yell at them, to shout at them, to calm them down, to calm yourself down. You want to rush upstairs to your son in nursery.
It started coming down. We felt as if it was doomsday.
I was among the children. I told them not to be scared. They opened the door by themselves and went outside. They started falling and all of the children gathered around me and I wanted to get up as well.
The glass was under a lot of pressure because of the sound of the airplane. They were all screaming and shouting, so I went to get my son, and the principal tried to calm down the students. They were saying a prayer and he asked us to try and calm down the students. This is how the students usually are.
Airstrikes would land near us, yet this airstrike was so close. It hit the school and directly behind the school. The situation was really difficult. We had to dismiss the students. Of course, the students shouldn’t leave by themselves. Usually we witness shelling and we don’t let them leave, we stay in the school.
But on that day, the school was destroyed and the doors, windows and glass were all broken.
Due to its strength, there was an unbelievable moment of panic among the students during the airstrike. Many of them left without their school backpacks. Surely with the help of God, none of the students were injured. Following this airstrike, our schedule was suspended for two days until the damages were fixed.
After some days off they fixed the damage and we resumed the schedule. Schools are always targeted by these people. The families don’t have many other options. They tried to come up with solutions, such as conducting study groups at home.
Normally after a shelling, half of the students would completely disappear for a week or ten days until they announce a truce. This is when they come back to school. Even during the times when airplanes come, their performance becomes weak because they are worried and distracted.