Geopolitics

In A Ravaged Aleppo, Back To School Means Bunker-Style Classrooms

As students return to school this month in the rebel-held areas of Aleppo, they won't be heading back to the same classrooms they left last year. Instead, they'll be studying in basements and other "secure areas" across the devas

At school in Aleppo
At school in Aleppo
Tamer Osman

ALEPPO — Students in Aleppo will be changing classrooms this year, but the move certainly can't be characterized as an upgrade.

According to a statement issued by the education department in the city's liberated areas, classes will no longer be held in existing schools. Students will instead attend classes in basements and other "secure areas" that have been equipped with security features meant to protect the children.

The statement, issued earlier this month, explained that because the Syrian government frequently targets schools, the municipality had been forced to undertake precautionary measures, additionally instructing both students and teachers not to leave the new locations before the end of the school day.

The decision came after repeated bombings on schools. The most recent happened in April, when Syrian government forces targeted the Saad al-Ansari school in the al-Mashhad neighborhood. Nine children and four teachers were killed in the attack, and 24 others were injured.

"I did not want to send my kids to school this year. I fear for their safety," says Abu Ali, a 39-year-old father of two children, ages seven and nine, from the al-Qatirji neighborhood. "However, I heard from friends of mine that some classes will be held in basements this year," he says. "After checking the new places myself, I discussed the issue with my wife, and we decided to send them to school. We want our kids to have an education, but we care more for their lives and for their safety."

Other than the musty smell of the basements, the biggest challenge educators face in the liberated area of Aleppo is the scarcity of financial resources. Most schools in these areas are entirely dependent on contributions from humanitarian organizations.

"All of our schools are run by the directorate of education, which is administered by the Syrian interim government," says Safwan Badawi, a lawyer and the principle of an elementary school. "It is not able to secure all needed supplies, like stationery for students and salaries for teachers. And due to very low salaries, which range between $25 and $100 per month, many teachers are moving either to other countries or to the regime-controlled areas."

Staffing is difficult

Badawi also says schools in the area lack teachers with any kind of specialization. "Right before the beginning of the school year, the directorate of education started a job search, but most who applied were either university students who could not continue their education because of the conflict, or those with no more than a high school degree. The directorate has no choice but to accept them because most teachers with a higher level of education have already left."

He adds that the curricula are based on the regime's recommendations, with some alterations. "We, for example, omitted the book of national education, which revolves around the Ba'ath Party and its achievements," Badawi says. "We also omitted all pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and all references to the regime, replacing them with pictures and references to the Syrian revolution, like Hamza al-Khatib, the first kid who was killed in the revolution."

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Hamza al-Khatib — Source: Ocaasi/Wikimedia Commons

Badawi says the ongoing civil war, now well into its fifth year, has had a disastrous effect on youth education in the area. "When the regime escalates its military campaigns against us, many families don't send their kids to school, or they leave and move to other areas," he says. "These frequent ruptures weaken the kids' commitment to education. In many other cases, parents don't send their kids to school because they need them to work and earn money to help the family."

Yasin, 11, is in the fifth grade, and his class now meets, when they can, in the basement of his old school. "I really hope the bombing stops soon," he says. "I wish I could go to school every day. I want to be a doctor someday. But when there is bombing, my parents keep me home."

According to Muhammad Mustafa Abul Hassan, an Arabic-language teacher and the director of education in liberated Aleppo, the area has 130 schools registered for this academic year.

"We have 32,000 students, most of whom are in elementary schools," he says. "But of that number, only 1% are high schoolers. Most students that age have migrated to Europe or to neighboring countries."

He says that though classes this year are being held in unusual locations, they plan to include recreational classes and activities. "We are doing our best to help the new generation receive a decent education, despite all the difficulties," he says.

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Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

¥10,000

In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never.

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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