"I was happy when I went to school"
by Catherine Carter
Amin* came from Syria a few days ago, and is currently curled up in his father’s lap. He speaks a little English, and seems delighted at the prospect of practising with me.
“Hello, my name is Amin*. I am eight years old.”
I smile, give him a thumbs up and ask him about school. Does he like going?
“Yes! I like going to school here, my favourite lesson is English. I was happy when I went to school in Syria… the school there is nicer than here. Why? Because it is my country.”
“To be successful you must go to school”
I ask him about his school in Syria. Amin is proud that he never used to miss school, and I ask him why school is so important.
He pauses, thinking about the answer with his head tilted to one side.
“At school you can learn a lot, and it is fun.”
I say that lots of children, for example in the UK, don’t enjoy going to school and can moan about it, and even bunk off. He looks scandalised. “But to grow and to be successful you must go to school!”
His face darkens suddenly, remembering. “But my mother was scared taking me to school. There was shooting at my school, and afterwards I saw the bullet holes.”
“There were people living in my school – people who had come from other places. I could see in my old classroom these people having heaters and cooking!
“These people ran away from their village because they lost their homes. Now they live in my school.”
Amin looks perplexed by this turn of events and I ask him about his school friends.
“Before the school stopped there were maybe six children there. The teachers brought all the children from different classes into one class. There was only one room we could use, because the other people were in the other rooms.
“My best friend was called Tahir, but he stopped coming to school and then I did not see him again. I don’t know where he is now.”
A sense of normality
We move on to happier topics – Amin wants to be a footballer when he grows up.
His family tell me that Amin’s personality has changed since going back to school.
He is calmer now they say, more sociable, and able to talk about things other than the war.
We know from our work around the world that school can help children recover the important sense of normality, enable them to talk about their experiences with other children, and of course – vitally – have fun and be children again.
*Name changed to protect his identity.
Amin and his family are being helped by Save the Children. They have been provided with a US$50 voucher per child for warm winter clothes, and a back-to-school kit including stationery, education materials and a backpack.