By Motasem Dalloul – Gaza City
In the bombed-out Gaza Strip, schooling, already hit by a chocking Israeli siege, has become a greater struggle after three weeks of massive bombing and attacks that left dozens of schools in ruins and students too traumatized to learn.
"We are working hard to find an appropriate building to resume our work, but because of the shortage of buildings and the increase of demand after the war we haven’t found any yet," Mamdouh Salem, headmaster of the American International School in Gaza, told IslamOnline.net.
Salem’s school stands as an example of dozens of schools, many run by the UNRWA and the private sector, flattened by the Israeli war machine during its recent onslaught.
The two-storey school, built on an 8-acre plot overlooking the Mediterranean, is now a mere mound of broken concrete.
Even the school’s buses were burnt by Israeli fire "with premeditation," Salem says.
Striving to get its 220 students back to classes, the school officials approached the UNRWA and the Education Ministry for help.
"The UNRWA said that all of their schools are busy in both shifts and the Education Ministry allowed us to use three of their big schools in the afternoon shifts," Salem said.
More than 37 primary and secondary schools in Gaza were destroyed or damaged in three weeks of Israeli air, sea and land attacks.
"Schools have been already overcrowded before the loss of classrooms during the war," Moahmmed Asqool, Education Minister in the Gaza government, told IOL.
Gaza’s 521 schools had been forced to operate morning and afternoon shifts of no more than four hours each to accommodate 450,000 students.
"To use a school for only four or five hours isn’t enough for our teaching program," laments Salem.
His school, once the jewel of Gaza’s education system, teaches in English and follows a US curriculum.
It used to offer field hockey and American football to children from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Despite the devastation, schools across Gaza opened their doors a few days after the end of the Israeli deadliest offensive to help children get back to normal life.
UNRWA reopened on January 24 all of its 221 schools, which accommodate some 200,000 students in Gaza.
"We have done our best to make some improvements on the rooms in order to let students attend their schools," Adnan Abu Hasna, UNRWA spokesman, told IOL.
"We decided not to ignore the stress they have lived during the war and the psychological sufferings they still live in."
UNRWA has deployed some 200 counselors to help children like Abeer Hammoud, a primary school student.
"I’ve lost all of my books and my school uniform when my house was attacked," she said in a somber voice.
Across Gaza, health workers say many children, including those who did not lose family members or their homes, are suffering post-war trauma.
The Gaza Mental Health Program has been seeking to locate distressed students in hospitals, schools and kindergartens.
Amer Hussien, 9, has a million question on his mind to ask.
"Why were our schools destroyed? Why were our books and notebooks torn? Are we doomed to live all our lives in suffering?" asks the grief-stricken boy.
"What was our sin to be punished like this?"