The story of the Al Salam School in Reyhanli begins in 2012 with the arrival of a group of Canadian doctors to the Turkish border town of Reyhanli. Anas Al Kassem, a surgeon from Ontario who was part of the group on a medical mission, saw hundreds of Syrian children out of school and decided to do something about it. He consulted his mother-in-law, who ran Ecole Al Salam, a Saturday Arabic school in Montreal. Dozens of fundraising drives and a year later Al Salam School was born – and Hazar Mahayni – who was part of the Montreal Ecole – was tasked with the responsibility of starting the project.
Mahayni is passionate about the school. Speaking to us from Montreal, without pause, she spoke of her vision for the school.
"We succeeded in merging Canadian education standards with Syrian values," she said. "It’s the best chance these Syrian children have of a bright future," she told us from Montreal.
One of these students is Saba Abdus Salam. Saba came to Turkey from Syria two years ago and is part of the first batch of students at Al Salam to receive a Turkish certified high school diploma. "It’s made a difference in my life," Saba told us. She has plans of going to Canada to further her education and has applied for grants through Al Salam’s Montreal chapter.
Under the new Turkish government's regulations, all media access to temporary education centres or TEC’s for Syrian children, has to go through the local governor. For Al Salam, this meant the Governor of Turkey’s Hatay Province, Ercan Topaca, and his representatives in Reyhanli had to give us permission to cover the school. Being the state broadcaster, our assumption was that getting permission would be the easy part to covering the story.
"Our system is down," said Attila bey, the deputy councillor for Reyhanli and the Governor of Hatay’s representative in the border town. He told us to return the following day – but the approval eluded us, even then.
The government of Turkey doesn’t fund Syrian refugee schools, but Turkey’s national Education Ministry monitors progress through state-appointed coordinators.
"My job is to coordinate with the national Ministry of Education to ensure that obligatory courses, like Turkish are being taught," said Cengiz bey. A slight man with harsh features and piercing blue eyes. "I’m taking a Syrian teacher to court for hitting children in class," he told us. He’d tell us of the steps the Turkish government had taken to ensure Syrian children in exile received an education. The Turkish government is trying to integrate the curriculum at the Syrian schools to bring it in line with Turkish education standards.
Hazar Mahayni said that the standardisation of the curriculum was to bring Syrian schools in line with the national Ministry of Education standards.
"Turkish oversight and standardisation is a good thing," said Mahayni. Speaking to us from Montreal. Mahayni, who is in her sixties and unrelenting in her determination to educate Syrian refugee children, said Turkey’s decision to certify high school diplomas issued by Al Salam, had paved the way for eighty of her students to find jobs and internships. "Six of our students have been able to get scholarships to Canada," she said.
"At the start of the Syrian war, in 2011, when the state had limited resources, we decided to collaborate. We didn’t create any hurdles for anyone who wanted to setup schools for the refugees. The children were Turkey’s first priority," he said.
"The system suddenly came back up last night, it’s working again," Attila the deputy councillor informed us as he finally gave us the provincial governors’ approval to cover Al Salam School – almost a week after we had made the request.