Throughout history, the land of Syria has been known as a place of art, literature and culture across the Middle East. The country lived up to that reputation in the modern ages, boasting some of the highest literacy rates across the whole region. The war since 2011, however, caused the country’s educational system to virtually implode. Many schools were bombed, used as housing for displaced people, converted to headquarters or simply abandoned due to lack of staff and chronic insecurity. UNICEF estimates that some 5000 schools across Syria have been rendered out of service since the war began. Now, a charity in Daraa has found a novel way to educate children across the countryside.
The “Olive Bus” is an ordinary passenger bus that has been converted into a makeshift classroom. Seats have been moved around and replaced with child-sized seats, the windows have been covered with educational posters and small shelving units have been installed to hold books. The bus itself has been adorned with bright colours and cartoon characters to appeal to the children.
The main goal of the bus is to provide primary school education for the children across the Daraa countryside, as a replacement for the schools that have been put out of action. The bus is often on the move, travelling between Daraa’s many communities. When it stops, it often sets up a small camp, allowing children to get some fresh air or otherwise play outside. The owners of the Olive Bus intend for it to not only be a place of education but also a place of entertainment, where they can get away from the troubles of war – at least for a few hours.
The conflict and the resultant risks, however, are not far from the minds of the adults here. Conscious that schools have often been hit and that setting up camp in high-risk areas can make them into targets, the owners choose the paths of the bus carefully, being sure to drive along the calmer regions of the Daraa countryside.
Luckily for them, the Daraa countryside has been relatively calm in recent months. A ceasefire agreement brokered between Russia, the US and Jordan has allowed the region to remain relatively peaceful over the latter half of 2017, allowing reconstruction and local industries to slowly pick up. Meanwhile, a number of projects have been launched to allow the children of Daraa to overcome the traumas of the conflict.