Fuad al-Basha, 23, was on the verge of leaving war-torn Syria to seek a new life in Europe.
“Like most young Syrians, despair and frustration had taken over my life, and I longed for normality,” he told Damascus Bureau.
As a last resort before emigrating, he decided to enrol at a new educational institute in Maarat al-Numan. Passionate about computers, Basha had always dreamed of working in a related field, so jumped at the chance of learning IT skills.
“Enrolling at the institute gave me a chance to stay in Syria,” he continued. “I’m learning a profession that I love, and when I master it I will be armed with a skill that will help me face the harsh reality we live in.”
The institute is the brainchild of the Syrian Humanitarian Institute for National Empowerment (Shine). The goal is to help young people secure employment and thus give them a reason to stay in Syria.
According to Shine’s mission statement, Syrian youth deserve the freedom and opportunity to choose the profession they wish to earn a living from.
With that end in mind, the college teaches vocational and business courses to secondary school and university level students to enable them to turn their interests into a source of income.
“We want to help young adults to become productive and self-reliant,” Shine’s executive director Mohammed al-Sultan told Damascus Bureau.
“Years of war have driven many Syrian youths to embark on journeys of death to flee their bitter reality and immense suffering.
“Our project aims to give young adults who still live in Syria hope and guidance. They are all that is left of this wounded country, and they are the only ones who will rebuild it,” the 30-year-old added.
The initiative targets young men and women whose education has been disrupted by the ongoing crisis. Many of them have had to drop out of school to avoid being detained by the government, meaning their employment chances have gone from slim to almost non-existent.
Specialised training includes information technology, computer electronics and programming, business economy and project management.
“All the teachers at the Shine institute are highly qualified and hold university degrees,” 42-year-old staff member Fayad al-Ahmad told Damascus Bureau.
“Despite the fact that they have to teach under difficult circumstances, they are all very hard-working and dedicated to their students,” he said.
To earn a Shine institute degree, students are required to pass both theoretical and practical exams. All qualifications issued by the institute are certified by the opposition’s department of higher education in Idlib.
At the end of each training programme, Shine secures jobs for its three highest-ranking graduates.
It also helps other students find employment. To this end, it has agreements with a number of establishments that offer placements and issue work experience certificates at the end of internships.
So far, the total cost of the project has reached 75,000 US dollars. Part of the budget is for the teachers, who receive a monthly wage of 150 dollars each.
The remainder has been used to rehabilitate a partially destroyed school to serve as the Shine premises, and purchasing items such as an electricity generator, computers and laboratory equipment.
“The school is fully operational, but the continuous government shelling of Maarat al-Numan distracts students and endangers their lives,” al-Ahmad said.
One student, Kamel Abdel Jawad, told Damascus Bureau that enrolling at the institute had given him a new sense of hope.
“I dropped out of school before earning my secondary education certificate. Although my entire future depended on it, it was too risky for me to travel from the liberated area where I live to a government controlled area to sit my final exams,’ the 20-year-old said.
“Life was difficult. I had no job and nothing to do.
“Enrolling at the institute brought hope back to my life. Not only have I made new friends, but I also enjoy all my classes. The teaching method that combines theory and practice means that I’m acquiring knowledge and skills in a short period of time.”
Sonia al-Ali is the pseudonym of a Damascus Bureau contributor from Maarat al-Numan. The 33-year-old holds a BA in Arabic Literature and works as a teacher. She is married with four children.
This article is republished at The Syrian Observer at a special agreement with Damascus Bureau.