Canadian-funded school in Turkey helps Syrian refugees

Syrian children forced to flee their home country are now being educated in Turkey with the help of a Canadian organization.

School has 600 students, and another 2,000 on waiting list

With the warzone that much of Syria has become, many of its people have fled to Turkey. There, our Sasa Petricic found a school for Syrian children that was started by some Canadians. 2:34

Syrian children forced to flee their homeland are now being educated in Turkey with the help of a Canadian organization.

The civil war in Syria — which activists say has left at least 35,000 dead since the uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011 — has resulted in the closure of most schools in the country.

Thousands of Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries, including Turkey, where a new school recently opened inside a lime-green house on the edge of the southwest border city of Reyhanli, with the help of $40,000 from Canadian Relief for Syria.

Syrians refugees who fled violence in their country are seen in a camp near Reyhanli, Turkey. A Canadian charity has helped set up a school in Reyhanli where children are bused every day. (Burhan Ozbilici/Associated Press)

The organization was in the news in August after the federal government decided to withdraw approval of a $2-million grant, saying it was concerned about how the money would be spent.

An official with the organization told CBC News every dime raised for the school came from private donations, mainly from Syrian-Canadians.

Photos: Helping Syrian children in Turkey

"It’s so important for any child to have education," said Hazar Mahayni, a pharmacist from Montreal who is taking time off work to be headmistress at the new school.

"The future of Syria — these children will build it. So they need support," Mahayni said.

She originally planned to spend just a week in Turkey setting up the school, but now says she doesn't think she can leave without making a difference.

"To make them feel safe. To take them away from the thoughts of war, dangerous stress. They had enough, I think," Mahayni said.

Currently, 600 young Syrians living in Reyhanli attend the school, where classes are led by Syrian teachers. There is a waiting list of 2,000 children from among the refugees in the area.

Many of the students at the school have witnessed first-hand the horrors of war.

"I watched as they tortured my uncles at my house," said one seven-year-old boy. "Bashar's men killed one of them."

A seven-year-old girl who fled Syria with her family a few weeks ago, said she is happy to be studying again at the school in Turkey.

"I missed a lot of school when I was in Syria," she told CBC News, speaking in Arabic.

Her father said he is thankful to Canadians.

"Canada has given us so much. Even more than many Muslim countries."

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With files from the CBC's Derek Stoffel and Sasa Petricic