Written by Wendy Wang
Translated by Mark Wan
Edited by Diana Chang, Andrea Barkley
The Syrian Civil War rages on. Having no home to return to, children who used to run through school hallways now witness those hallowed halls reduced to rubble. Teachers and students have lost communication. Those lucky enough to have escaped the nightmare that used to be home have crossed the Turkish border. Still, they feel haunted by the first shot of the war on March 15, 2011. The subsequent cannon fires and constant fighting have had a traumatizing effect on refugees of all ages.
A decade has passed, and the war has no end in sight. Sadly, these displaced Syrians may never return home. But no matter whether it is war or peacetime, children need an education. And so, Tzu Chi founded El Menahil School, a school for Syrian refugees in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2015. Bodour Chamsi is a teacher at this institution. In a recent interview, Chami said, “Because of the Syrian civil war, refugees came to Turkey. They had to work long hours and could not care for their children.”
After spending several years with these Syrian children, Chamsi found them emotionally battered. Most had PTSD, and some children found it hard to communicate. Others children, unfortunately, became angry at a world they felt had betrayed them. Teachers play an essential role in shaping students’ growth in their formative years since most lack proper familial upbringing. Therefore, teachers’ care was much more critical in this case. However, teaching was just part of the equation—the rest of the time, they needed to be exemplary models and patient companions for those students.
Creating Compassion-Based Formal Education
Tzu Chi USA’s Education Foundation funds and promotes long-term character education programs. On February 22, 2021, just before the tenth year of the Syrian Civil War, the Character Education team and Tzu Chi volunteer Faisal Hu in Turkey met with El Menahil School teachers online. During this meeting, they shared how character education positively impacted poor and underserved American school districts. Next, they discussed modifying the content and curriculum to fit El Menahil teachers’ cultural and faith backgrounds. Fourteen teachers participated online, each one hoping to heal the immense trauma these children have experienced.
Asaad Alnhayer mainly teaches grade school. The fearful look on some children’s faces deeply pained him. He saw how war matured these children beyond their years. “Teachers for refugee students have much more responsibilities on their shoulders. We have to demonstrate character cultivation can help them overcome tremendous psychological hurdles and help them re-oriented to life beyond their terrible ordeals.”
The urgent tone in what Alnhayer said immensely echoed what all other teachers reported. The fourteen El Menahil School teachers endure much, but their students have suffered even more. Therefore, these educators fully dedicate themselves to transforming the lives of the Syrian refugee children they serve. Through education, emotional support, and spiritual wisdom, they hope to help these children of war find peace and healing in their hearts and minds.