YEREVAN (A.W.)—More than 300 Syrian-Armenian children who fled Aleppo in recent months are now studying at a school in Yerevan, and following the Syrian curriculum.
Operating since 2012, the Giligian School (grades 1 to 9) is situated in a wing of the Nar-Tos Number 14 School in Yerevan, and caters to Syrian-Armenian students. While their parents struggle to secure the basic needs of their family, the daily routine of the school provides a sense of normalcy to the children.
Over the past few months, the number of students continued to grow as more and more families arrived in Armenia. The influx slowed down earlier this year, as flights between Aleppo and Yerevan were discontinued.
Still, several new students enroll in the school every week, school principal Nora Pilibbossian told Armenian Weekly editor Khatchig Mouradian in an interview. Syrian-Armenian families are arriving in Armenia by way of Lebanon. Others, however, are leaving, as families move to Europe, the Emirates, or other countries after a few months’ stop in Armenia.
The average size of a class is around 30 students, with certain classrooms holding many more; the 7-9th grades accommodate more than 40 students each. Most of the classes here are taught in Arabic, except the Armenian-, English-, and French-language classes (the latter for students in grades 7-9).
Considering the difficulty of acquiring textbooks from Syria in large numbers, photocopies are often made and distributed to students.
Buses rented by the school pick them up in the morning from different neighborhoods in and around Yerevan, and drop them back off in the afternoon. The school bus system is uncommon in Armenia, where most local children go to schools in their own neighborhoods or use public transportation.
The U.S.-based Giligian Paresiragan Miutyun sponsors the school, which also accepts donations from individuals and groups willing to help. In turn, the Armenian Ministry of the Diaspora and the Ministry of Science and Education provide moral and administrative support.
Interested donors can sponsor students or help defray transportation costs.
“Even the evening before the school opened its doors, there were some who doubted this project would take off,” said Pilibbossian. But take off it did, and it continues to operate seamlessly.
Yet, the future of the school, as well as that of the hundreds of Syrian-Armenian families who have fled their homes and found refuge in Armenia, Lebanon, and beyond, remains fraught with challenges and uncertainties.
Here in Yerevan, many families are still struggling to find proper housing, jobs, and some semblance of normalcy. Yet, education remains at the center of their attention. One parent told the Weekly how, before the Giligian School opened, the children were staying at home all day.
“We tried sending the kids to a local school, but they had difficulties adapting to the curriculum,” Raffi, a parent of three, said. “We then tried home-schooling, but with everything else we have to sort out, that didn’t really work out either.”
While many see the school as a blessing, they also realize that it is only a temporary solution. “We will return to Syria the day after hostilities cease, and we want our children to continue their education there without experiencing difficulty,” another parent said.
Others doubt that it will be possible to return soon—or at all—and acknowledge that steps must be taken at the school to prepare the students for integration into the local education system, where Eastern Armenian—with considerable differences from the Western Armenian dialect the children speak—and Russian are the main languages of instruction.
“We still dream of returning to our beloved Aleppo. But with each passing day, that dream becomes fuzzier,” said Raffi.