Breaking News Emails
"I want to learn."
So says nine year-old Najua as she waits for her school bus in the small Turkish border town of Reyhanli. It's a big day, the first time in two and a half years that she'll be in a classroom. It's 6 a.m. The bus is running late and Najua, who is waiting with her mom, Um Ahmed, is worried it may not show up at all.
"I don't know how to read or write," Najua says. "It's not fair."
We first met Najua and her family in early April when we traveled to the border here to report on the plight of Syrian families displaced by war. In Syria, Najua attended school for just 5 days; on the 6th day, warplanes demolished it, dropping bombs and crushing her future. Her favorite teacher was killed in the attack, and Najua was injured in a fall trying to escape the chaos.
A year ago, Um Ahmed took Najua and her other her three children -- 6 year-old Iman, 4 year-old Ahmed and 7 month-old baby Amal -- and fled to Turkey. Najua looks after her younger siblings while her mother works -- one reason she hasn't been in school. The other? Um Ahmed was also not aware that there was a Syrian school nearby.
Now, Najua is about to have her first day in a classroom in years.
The school bus arrives, and Najua rushes on board. At school, she and seven other students have been placed in a special class for children who have fallen behind in their studies. The oldest is 15 year-old Heba. She's been selling bread to support her family rather than attending school.
"I want to learn everything!," Najua exclaims. "I don't want to miss a single letter!"
Each student receives a note book and a pencil. On their first day they are are learning the alphabet. Najua's teacher predicts it will take at least 3 months, perhaps longer, for her to catch up with students her age. He says it's normally easier for children to learn basics like the alphabet when they are under 8 years-old. But he says Najua is inquisitive and resilient, so there's every chance she'll make it to third grade soon.
At recess, Najua plays with her new schoolmates: she pushes a swing, makes sand castles, and even has tries playing basketball– a far cry from her days at home where there is nowhere safe for children to play.
"My first day was great! " Najua says at the end of the day. " I want to keep coming and learning!"
But her mother is tense. She's concerned that her elderly parents will not be able to manage looking after the younger children, even for just part of the day. Najua may have to be pulled away from school once again.
"I have huge responsibilities. The children, rent, and other expenses need to be paid, " she says.
But Najua is hopeful. She plans to be a teacher in honor of the woman who taught her at her first school, killed when it was bombed.
Aziz Akyavas contributed to this report.