School aims to restore what Syrian refugees lost

(CBS News) ANTAKYA, Turkey -- What may look like a basement storefront in a Turkish town near the Syrian border actually conceals a school for 500 children -- all of them refugees from Syria's civil war.

Omar, 13, attends a makeshift school in Turkey with 500 other children who have fled Syria's civil war.
Omar, 13, attends a makeshift school in Turkey with 500 other children who have fled Syria's civil war. CBS News

CBS News visited an English class, where we met 13-year-old Omar, an Aleppo native.

Aleppo, Syria's largest city, has been pounded for months by the Syrian air force. Whole neighborhoods have been reduced to rubble.

When the fighting got too close, Omar and his family fled across the border to Turkey.

"Bashar al Assad destroyed all of Syria, and we come here to have a life -- a good life," Omar said.

Another boy, Ali, said he lost both of his hands and his left eye when a plane bombed his house.

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In a math class, CBS News asked how many had lost someone in their family in the war. Nearly a third raised their hands.

Principal Zikwan Da'yid
Principal Zikwan Da'yid CBS News

Principal Zikwan Da'yid taught history in Syria. He said he was arrested three times by government forces before he escaped to Turkey. He said many of the children at the school are traumatized.

"They get frightened by loud noises," he said in Arabic. "If someone bangs on the wall, they panic. They feel they're always under threat."

The Turkish government allows the school to operate but doesn't provide anything else. Text books are donated by a charity, and the teachers' salaries are minimal.

Da'yid became emotional when asked to discuss his dream for the children.

"That they go back to their country, with their heads held high, and rebuild the schools," he said. "I want to try to give these kids what they have lost."

The Turkish government is struggling to house the wave of Syrian refugees; the government says it has spent a billion dollars trying to host them. There are currently more than 150,000 Syrian refugees living in Turkey, and the government simply can't build camps quickly enough. One result of this is that there are now tens of thousands of would-be Syrian refugees along the Turkish border who are still stuck inside Syria, where aid cannot reach them easily.
  • Clarissa Ward

    Foreign Correspondent, CBS News