How We Started

The story of 5 Skoler began when the former school teacher Maren traveled to the Syrian border to create educational materials about children on the run from war. Maren returned home with stories from the children, which she shared with Danish students. Meanwhile, she left the Syrian children behind with their biggest dream, “to go to school.”

5 Skoler was founded in 2019 with a burning desire to change the conditions for Syrian children stranded indefinitely in no man’s land, where childhood does not belong. Standing beside Maren is Zarah, a former management consultant in the social sector. Zarah has worked with vulnerable children and youth for many years, both in Denmark and internationally.

Together, they now build schools for children on the run from war along the Syrian border.

Our progress has been rapid. We do what is possible, where it is possible, with the resources entrusted to us. Today, we have schools made of tarpaulins, isolated tent schools, and schools built with bricks, equipped with air conditioning, toilets, refrigerators, and meal programs. We have even, as the only ones in the area, found a way for Syrian children to obtain documents for their education on an equal footing with the local population. This makes a world of difference for our students who would otherwise have no access to education.

The Schools

Between two fields close to the Syrian border in one of the neighboring countries, a potholed gravel road cuts through a small strip of land, once a natural boundary in the landscape. Now, the strip stands out as one of the many unregistered camps where Syrian families on the run have settled indefinitely, while their homeland is ravaged by war, violence, and instability.

Light blue tarps are stretched over fragile metal frames or loose wooden structures, now constituting the families’ homes. In the fields, the parents work, and if it hadn’t been for the white tent in the center of the camp, the children would most likely have sat alone in the sweltering tents or wandered aimlessly in the camp’s dusty sand, their gazes fixed on nothing.

But in this particular camp, there is indeed a strong, white tent with a curved roof and a number 5 inside a black triangle above the door. Inside the tent, children’s voices, laughter, and songs can be heard, and if you peek inside, you’ll see happy children with sparkle in their eyes and hands raised, eager to answer the teacher’s questions.

Fortunately, more and more camps and areas stand out. Here, the triangular logo of 5 Skoler marks the existence of a sanctuary, a learning space with letters, numbers, and collective singing. In some places, the number 5 is on a tent cloth, in other places on bricks. We have also built schools with bricks, where children born on the run sit in real classrooms with proper blackboards, have a schoolyard, and air conditioning in summer or heating in winter.

In these official schools, our students receive documentation of their education, which they can carry forward in life. Common to all our schools is that we have built them for children who had none. We usually call our schools magical spaces because it’s as if the harsh world outside cannot penetrate them. It turns around at the tent opening, making room for the children to catch a glimpse of the childhood they are entitled to.

The Children

Our students come from Syria but have grown up in the surrounding areas. They live in temporary camps that have taken root. Parents work from sunrise to sunset, and children look after other children. There are children as far as the eye can see, but there is no childhood. That is until the day they step through the school door for the first time; that day changes their lives forever. For all the children share the dream of going to school.

They go from being refugee children to school children. They learn against all odds to read, write, calculate, sing, and tell stories. They learn to be children.

They get a childhood; their gaze shifts from the ground to meet others. They gain the courage to raise their hands and use their voices. When they return to their families in the evenings under the blue tarps, they carry school bags filled with memories. Because at 5 Skoler, we give children a story to tell.

Before our students start school, they usually dream of collecting garbage like their mothers or picking tomatoes like their fathers. But after some time, we see that their dreams have grown. Our students dream of becoming doctors, merchants, lawyers, and school teachers, and it is our task at 5 Skoler to help them as far as we can towards their dreams.

When our teaching is evaluated, we are proud to see that our students’ academic level generally exceeds the local average. It strengthens our belief that in school, above all, we are building human beings.

The Teachers

We have chosen teachers who are good role models and whom the children can seek care from. Teachers who are part of their daily lives and form the framework for what we call the magical space. Because even though the tent fabric may be only 2 mm thick, it is enough to keep the harsh world outside away.

All our teachers have been trained in the teaching profession and come either from Syria or the local area. What all our teachers have in common is that they have been chosen for their ability to care for our students and their insight and understanding of their life situation.

It takes something special to be a teacher for children on the run. They must not only teach reading, writing, and arithmetic; they must teach them how to be children. Our teachers use learning through play methods, and their most important task is to make our students love learning and give them the courage to dream.

Our teaching follows the local curriculum, but at the same time, we use LEGO as an active part of the teaching to support creative and playful learning. Zarah and Maren receive pictures, videos, and class lists from all the teachers every day, which help document the teaching and allow us to follow closely.