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Firefly for Syrians’ Earthquake Response :: Firefly for Syrians

A member blog post by

Jane Critchley Salmonson

Firefly International

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Firefly for Syrians started seven years ago in Antakya, southern Turkey. It was set up to help with the education of children of Syrian refugees, many of whom were traumatised by war and by their flight to Turkey. The charity is led and managed by Syrian refugees.

First day back at school in Qabasin, northern Syria. PHOTO CREDIT: Firefly for Syrians.

From its base in Antakya it expanded to other cities in southern Turkey, and into northern Syria. On 5th February it was teaching around 1000 pre-primary and primary school children in Arabic, maths and science.

On 6th February the earthquake which ripped through southern Turkey and northern Syria, took everything – lives, homes, families, properties, possessions and communities.

Fadia Shaker, the Director, mercifully survived the quake, along with her family. She is leading efforts to restore education to Syrian children who have already suffered so much and now suffer again. Firefly International, based in Edinburgh, is supporting its partner charity by raising and transferring funds, and offering technical assistance and advice where it can. Fadia’s first task was to contact all the small core office staff in Antakya and the team of 40 teachers and mentors spread through the project area, which almost exactly matches the earthquake zone. We mourn the death of our science teacher, Mohammed and wish for the recovery of our local Board chair Yasser who is very seriously injured. Miraculously, all our other staff survived. The heart-rending work of trying to resume contact with the children, is ongoing.

Most survivors have nothing, beyond the clothes they stand up in. Most are homeless. It is very cold. Even houses which remain standing are probably structurally unsafe and Antakya may be completely evacuated. Firefly, whose mission is to teach young children, has temporarily taken on a humanitarian role as a vital first step on the road to restoring education.

Funds raised are firstly being used to restore communications between members of staff. Mobile phones with data loaded come high on the list. Mobile phone technology is being used to transfer funds from Fadia to individual teachers, giving them enough for a transitional period, initially three months, to buy essential items on an agreed list. Teachers are also being paid salaries despite not yet teaching. They are trained and experienced and should be retained, if they are willing to stay, to help with restoring the programme to its previous standards as soon as possible.

Firefly International has enlisted the support of Action for Child Trauma International (ACTI), a charity it has partnered with for several years in Gaza. ACTI’s trained Syrian psychologist will offer counselling to help cope with trauma.

In northern Syria the situation is different. In this still war-ravaged part of the world, poverty is more deep-rooted and endemic than in Turkey. The physical damage caused by earthquake was less severe, as families were living either in low rise buildings, or in tents in camps for internally displaced people. The humanitarian situation is dreadful. New humanitarian corridors have now been opened up from Turkey into northern Syria and aid is starting to trickle through. Our work in distributing relief takes precedence for now over teaching children to read and write. Our classes have just resumed in the remote, rural Qabasin area. Our school in the Khirbet Aljouz Refugee Camp and our classes in the Bza’a Orphan Centre can re-start once permissions are given by local authorities. Teaching will be replaced by therapeutic play-based activities initially, as children are too frightened to be expected to learn.

Firefly International is deeply proud of its colleagues in Turkey and Syria, temporarily humanitarian actors as well as teachers. They will need huge reservoirs of emotional strength as well as the funds we can send, to be able to fulfil their pledge to give back to Syrian children, once again, the education they so need and deserve.

You can find out more about Firefly for Syrians and donate to their campaign here.

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