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Syria literacy program: "The first word I read was my daughter's name"

Portrait of Maha writing with a pen on paper

All photos by Mohamed Shaker/CARE

All photos by Mohamed Shaker/CARE

Before the war began in Syria, Maha*, 50, never imagined she would have the chance at an education. Thanks to changing gender roles and a literacy program offered by CARE, her dream has come true. She “feels alive.” Maha offered her own words to share about the experience:

“I am 50 years old and a widow. I have 10 children; five daughters and five sons. We live in al Shargye village, in al Nashwa, close to al Sur (a town in Northeastern Syria).

We didn’t always live here. I remember the day we left our old home. It was a Thursday afternoon and there was heavy fighting. The airstrikes were intense. We thought we’d return in a couple of days but it was a whole year before we came back. We returned and found the building we had lived in was completely destroyed.

“The war affected everything. My children couldn’t finish their education. Four of my daughters were married off at the age of 15. In some villages girls have to marry early or they will never get married. I wanted my daughters to get a proper education but I was also afraid for their safety.

“I never had the chance to go to school. In my village women weren’t allowed to go to school. When my husband died 15 years ago, I began to sew clothes to feed my children. But it was due to the support of relatives that we survived. Now my children are old enough to support me. But if I had been educated maybe I would have given them a better life after their father passed away. If I was educated I could have helped them with homework.

Maha and CARE staffer at far end of table with paper and pen in foreground

‘I want them to be proud of their mother’

“Every woman should be educated. Thankfully the role of women is changing in the community. Organizations come to the villages and help women learn to read and write or sew or other professions. In the past this wasn’t available or acceptable.

“It is important for a woman to be educated, for herself, and for her children. One day my son came home and told me there’s this program that teaches women to write and read. He encouraged me to participate, so I registered. I’m glad I joined. Everything about the training was special. I felt alive. I didn’t want it to end.

“It was like we were in school. We used to call each other for help with homework. Sometimes the teachers would ask: ‘Are you sure you didn’t copy each other’s homework?’ and we would laugh.

“The first word I read was my daughter’s name. I had just learned to spell her name when she called! I looked at my phone and my teacher ask me to try and read the caller’s name. I looked at it again and recognized my daughter’s name! It was the happiest moment of my life.

“Before, I couldn’t read the Quran or anything at all. Now I can read the Quran. I can read the banners in the street. I know who is calling me. I can find my children’s names in the contact list in my mobile.

“I am proud I can read. And I am proud of my children. They’re the ones who motivated me to get an education. I want them to be proud of their mother. My wish is to continue with such classes so I can be better at reading and writing.”


* Name changed for privacy.

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