Many of the families have been transient for months. The student body includes three Iraqi students who were refugees in Syria, only to have to move again. And some parents said they were hesitant to leave Syria because they didn’t want to pull their children out of school. A 13-year-old boy named Hasan said that he attended a school for gifted students in Idlib. His family stayed in Syria until they heard that a school had opened in Antakya, he said, then fled in early January.
On his last day of school in Syria, he couldn’t tell anyone that he was leaving for fear his family would be stopped by government forces. Once safely in Turkey, he told them via Facebook. A few responded, saying that he had missed so many classes in Syria that he would probably be expelled.
Timeline: Major events in the country’s tumultuous uprising that began in March 2011.
“I didn’t want to leave my school,” said the boy, who has curly brown hair and wears glasses and one day wants to be a heart surgeon. “I didn’t want to leave my friends.”
Difficulty opening up
The teachers say they have tried to create an environment where it’s all right to talk about feelings and cry in the principal’s office. They have hosted food and clothing collections for newly arriving refugees. And the older students recently organized an evening celebration where they performed a skit, sang songs in different languages and displayed artwork inspired by the war.
“Some of the kids, what they saw made them stronger. And some of them . . . ” the vice principal said. “We have a 13-year-old boy who was arrested with his brother, and he saw his brother killed. When he sits in class, he doesn’t listen. He just sits there.”
Even in peace time, teens often have difficulty opening up, said the school psychologist. In the face of death and destruction, some teens feel guilty complaining that they miss their friends or their old way of life. At an age when they sometimes clash with their parents, families are forced to live together in close quarters. The teachers have been trying to show the students, especially the boys, that it’s okay to release their feelings in the same ways that younger children do: painting, drawing, playing sports, talking to adults, crying.
“Teenagers want to be independent. They want to prove themselves,” said Muatasim, 26, who was working on his masters in psychology at the University of Damascus before the uprising. “When they come to a problem, they want to solve it themselves. We tell them, it’s okay to ask for help.”