Crisis in Syria: “I want to invent a medicine that helps against sadness.”


By Johanna Mitscherlich

Do we risk it or not? Is the coast clear?  Are they still shooting? Have the tanks finally rolled away? Are we out of reach of their airplanes and their bombs?

For two years, Zainab and Farsidheh had to ask themselves these kinds of questions every day before they went to school.

“Most of the time we stayed at home. It was simply too dangerous,” the two cousins, now 15 years old, explain. 

When their house in Daraa in the southwestern part of Syria was burnt to the ground, staying home was no longer an option. Together with their families they fled the war in Syria into neighboring Jordan. For almost a year, Zainab and Farsidheh did not go to school.

“In the beginning we did not even think about going to school here. We were [convinced] that we would be able to go back home soon, go back to our old school,” Farsidheh says. Her gentle face and hazel eyes are encircled by a white headscarf.

“But the war did not stop. It got worse and worse. We wanted our daughters to live in freedom and have all the opportunities that life can possibly offer,” Zainab’s stepmother Siham explains.

The girls were rejected by seven schools. “We either did not have the right documents or the schools did not have any space for them. Even the waiting lists were full,” says Siham. Finally, a school did accept them. However, it was more than an hour by foot from where they had settled.

“I did not want my daughter to walk this far by herself. I am afraid that something could happen to her. We don’t know our way around here.”

Siham’s strong presence seems like it could easily scare people away. A family in Jordan has to spend approximately $40 a month to send a child to school, pay for public transport as well as school books and supplies. After being refugees for more than a year, Siham’s family could not afford these expenses. But Zainab and Farsidheh, who shared a desk in their school in Syria, did not want to give up. They met with other Syrian refugee girls and their mothers in their neighborhood and came up with an idea.

The families rented their own small bus to take approximately 20 girls to school, which the parents could afford when sharing the costs.

Today, after almost three years, Farsidheh and Zainab are back to school. But they have to repeat an entire year.

“I don’t care that everyone else is younger than me,” Zainab says. “I want to graduate.”

The past few weeks have been difficult for the two girls. To catch up on the subject matter they have missed, every day they study until midnight and get up at six o’clock in the morning to do their homework before the school starts.

“The subjects here are different. I did not know anything about Jordanian history or geography before,” Zainab explains.

“Sometimes going to school hurts,” Farsidheh says. “It reminds me of my friends in Syria, my teachers, my old route to school.”

Those cheerful times are nothing but fading memories now. The girls have not received any news whatsoever from any of their friends in Syria over the past year.

“At least Zainab and I are still in the same class,” says Farsidheh. As in many Jordanian class rooms, Zainab and Farsidheh share their teacher with almost 50 other students. Many of them are Syrian refugee girls like them.

Zainab wants to become a pharmacist, Farsidheh a doctor.

“I have seen so many people suffer. I want to come up with solutions; I want to help. I don’t want to feel powerless,” Farsidheh explains her career aspirations.

“I want to invent a medication that helps against sadness,” says Zainab.

Zainab’s brothers have stopped dreaming about further education. While they were studying civil engineering and law in Syria, they are now pushing wheelbarrows and carrying stones on construction sites in order to feed their families.

“They have lost their future. How can one lose something that is supposed to lie ahead of you?” Siham says and silently begins to cry.

It remains uncertain how long Zainab and Farsidheh’s families can still afford to send them to school. Winter is coming and the family needs to spend money on warm blankets and heaters. Their brothers will not be able to work on the construction sites during the off-season. But there’s still hope. A few weeks ago, Zainab and Farsidheh’s families registered at CARE’s center to receive financial support so their girls do not have to leave school.

“We have to pay around [$275.00] a month for rent. In addition, we have to pay for water, food and medication. One does not die from not going to school, like one dies from hunger, thirst or cold,” Siham says. “But in the long run, there is hardly anything as important as education.”