In unofficial schools run by a Syrian charitable organisation in neighbourhoods controlled by the Syrian opposition in Aleppo, children do not come out into the courtyard during break times for fear of barrel bombs falling from the sky onto their heads.
The organisation Cash Malik (which means Checkmate in English) manages 7 schools where most of the 110 teachers are new to the profession and teach nearly 3000 students in the divided city destroyed by the war. The executive director of the organisation Marcel Shehwaro said that the organisation’s schools were closed because of holidays and have not opened again because of heavy shelling in the last few days. She added that she did not know when they will reopen but remains hopeful. In an interview with Reuters, she said “when you work in the field of education, you realise the importance of having another generation and that this generation needs the opportunity to be educated”. Cash Malik tries to establish its schools in cellars surrounded by high buildings in order to provide some protection from airstrikes.
Shehwaro is a dentist by profession but stopped practicing dentistry in 2010 to study political science. She then became one of the first participants in the protests against Bashar Al-Assad and is a Christian who helps the Sunni Muslim residents of Aleppo. The name “Cash Malik” (checkmate in English) refers to the king’s death when playing chess and alludes to the idea of establishing a democratic republic in Syria in place of what the organisation sees as Assad’s dictatorship.
The organisation started setting up schools in Aleppo in 2011 and initially used the headquarters of regular schools. However, the situation changed after Assad’s forces shelled the Ein Jalut School in Aleppo in 2014. Shehwaro said that 23 children were killed in that attack. She added that “the worst thing that could happen was Assad targeting schools. At present none of our schools have a courtyard. We do not have any playground equipment and there is no activity. We replace this with drawing and puppet shows and activities that can take place in closed rooms”.
At first, local activists and their supporters funded the schools themselves but over time foreign donors began to donate. Shehwaro said that the Catholic Pax Christi Aid Society and the Society for Development and Peace are their largest sources of funding. However, the flow of funding is not always regular and sometimes teachers do not receive their wages that amount to around $115 per month. She went on to say that her organisation is a political one but the children are not exposed to any slogans or political campaigns. Of the difficulties that she faces is the fact that 80% of the teachers do not have experience and most of them are women who did not receive training in this field.