School year gets under way in Syria's Manbij

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

Al-Furat Forum for Studies hosted a symposium in Manbij on September 3rd, which sparked animated discussion between the panelists and attendees. [Photo courtesy of Manbij Media Office]

Al-Furat Forum for Studies hosted a symposium in Manbij on September 3rd, which sparked animated discussion between the panelists and attendees. [Photo courtesy of Manbij Media Office]

Schools in the Syrian city of Manbij are preparing to open for the new academic year, while students and their parents shop for supplies in the local markets.

Schools that were closed during the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) era reopened shortly after the group was ousted from the town, in August 2016, but this is the first time going back to school has felt normal, local residents said.

"Efforts are under way to put the finishing touches on the start of the new school year in Manbij and its countryside," said Saleh Haj Muhammad, an administrator with the Manbij civil council education committee.

Schools are being prepared, cleaned and provided with equipment and materials, including heaters in preparation for the winter, he told Diyaruna.

The council also spearheaded a teacher training initiative in order to ensure the schools are staffed with qualified personnel, Haj Muhammad said.

"There are many shortfalls in requirements, but everyone is determined to move forward with the education process and ensure it succeeds," he said.

Over the past few weeks, the education committee in co-operation with the international coalition, rehabilitated the Zidane Hanaydil school, which ISIS had turned into a big prison, teacher and committee co-chair Suhail Wali told Diyaruna.

The school will reopen its doors on September 16th, he said, with a faculty of at least 25 teachers.

There are 300 schools in total that fall under the council's authority, Haj Muhammad said: 34 inside the city and the remainder in the surrounding countryside.

"The number of students is expected to top 80,000, as parents are turning out in droves to enroll their children in school," Haj Muhammad said.

Stimulating the local economy

"The opening of schools has returned the back-to-school congestion to the city of Manbij and its markets, a scene the city missed while it was under the control of ISIS," said Hussein Khalil, a member of the internal security forces in Manbij.

The group shut down schools while it was in control of the city, turning some into training camps for its fighters and others into prisons, he told Diyaruna.

Local residents have been visiting the city’s markets to buy clothes and supplies for their children, Khalil said, which has helped to stimulate commercial activity.

He attributed the high turnout of shoppers to the "calm security situation the region is enjoying, thanks to the efforts of the Manbij Military Council and internal security forces, who are conducting patrols day and night".

This increased security was evident during the Eid al-Adha holiday, when the city was crowded with people, Khalil said.

The council's education committee has focused its attention on both rehabilitating school buildings and training teachers, said committee member and local teacher Maysam al-Mahmoud.

"To encourage students to return to schools and establish strong links with them, the education committee called on students to take part in the cleanup campaigns alongside the teachers," she told Diyaruna.

This has had a clear positive impact on parents and students, she said.

Cultural activity returns

"Life in the city of Manbij has returned to normal as all service institutions are working round the clock to repair, restore and rehabilitate all the main service facilities," said agricultural engineer and Manbij resident Mohammed Burhan.

These include roads, the power grid and the water distribution network, he told Diyaruna, adding that work is continuing to remove remnants of the war.

Cultural events are now being held in Manbij, he added, most recently a September 3rd intellectual symposium held by Al-Furat Forum for Studies.

"It was attended by a number of public, political and military officials, and featured discussions of a large number of cultural issues related to the daily lives of residents," Burhan said, and the way forward for Syria politically.

The event saw "remarkable interaction by the attendees with the panelists", he said, noting that the discussions were held in an atmosphere "not seen in the city over the past years".

Such events encourage freedom of expression and cultural and political activism, he added.

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