Singapore's gift of education to young Syrian refugees

Singapore's gift of education to young Syrian refugees
The Temasek Education Centre in Kilis, Turkey, can accommodate up to 400 students, offer subjects such as Arabic, Turkish, English, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, History, Natural Sciences and Social Studies.

A short distance across the border from their conflict-riddled homeland, a group of Syrian refugee children will start 2015 in a school with a Singaporean touch.

The four-storey Temasek Education Centre in Kilis, southern Turkey, has Singapore's national flower, the Vanda Miss Joaquim, as its logo and was set up with $350,000 donated by the Muslim community in Singapore.

It is an effort by several community groups to channel aid from well-wishers concerned about the plight of Syrians displaced by the four-year civil war.

Mr Zainul Abidin Ibrahim, a member of the Rahmatan Lil Alamin Foundation (RLAF) board of trustees, told The Straits Times: "We felt that the gift of education... will offer a semblance of normalcy of life and a glimmer of hope of a better future for the affected children."

The RLAF, started by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore in 2009, is among the groups supporting the school, which was initiated by religious education group SimplyIslam and the Muslim Expatriates Network as part of their Aid to Syrian Refugees in Turkey (Asrit) project.

The school, some 10km from the Syrian border, will offer up to 400 students from pre-primary to secondary levels the chance to resume their studies.

It was launched earlier this month and currently has 150 students enrolled.

One of them is Hajar Sheikh Muhammad, 17, from Aleppo, Syria, who said she was thankful for "a nice place where we can study like other students".

The school has five classrooms, a computer lab, a library, an art-and-music therapy room, and two multi-purpose rooms, among other facilities. There are also four kindergarten rooms.

There, students learn languages like Arabic, Turkish and English, as well as maths, science and Islamic religious knowledge, taught by 20 qualified teachers.

These teachers, also Syrian refugees, made the cut from 600 applicants after a stringent interview process led by the Syrian Education Council based in Turkey.

The school has the Council's certification, so students will be able to continue their studies in Syria if they return home.

Some 3.2 million people have fled war-ravaged Syria, with one third of them seeking asylum in Turkey, according to latest figures by the United Nations. More than 50 per cent of them are aged 17 and below, underlining the importance for a school, said Mr Zainul.

RLAF and Asrit's efforts, however, will not stop with the school's opening.

They are exploring getting youth volunteers from mosques, madrasahs and tertiary institutions to conduct enrichment programmes like art and music therapy.

Also being considered is an international friendship programme, where students from both sides can link up through social media.

Meanwhile, the school is also seeking books for its library from Singapore schools. Some 200 books have been donated by Tampines Secondary School and Madrasah Al- Irsyad Al-Islamiah.

Said Viana Shedo, 14, from Kobane, Syria: "We feel so comfortable and safe. The managers of the school provide us with stationery, notebooks and pencils. "We're happy to continue our education and that it will not stop because of the war," she added.

This article was first published on December 30, 2014.
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