Educational institutions in opposition-held Syria are few and under severe strain. The potential number of students by far outstrips their ability to absorb them. However, Syrian youth play a crucial role in managing emergency and humanitarian needs on the ground. Once the conflict has ended their contribution to reconstruction and transition of their country will be indispensable. Crucially, they play a key role in defending civic values in an increasingly vicious sectarian conflict. The institutions supporting them, i.e. the universities that continue to function, the teacher and student unions and local councils, are struggling themselves. It is therefore crucial to create more opportunities for those who are actively involved in civic initiatives inside Syria by both providing them with on the ground assistance and by supporting those local institutions which are important to the community and which are struggling to survive.
The project goal is to support educational activities in Syria and to contribute to the political and economic transition by upgrading the skills and knowledge of Syrian youth activist leaders in subjects with immediate relevance for dealing with emergency and transition in Syria. In June 2013, ISSUE 2013 took place. Most importantly, the pilot event proved the feasibility of organising this kind of event in spite of the precarious situation in Syria and in particular, the challenges involved in reaching out to the target group and their transfer from inside Syria to Turkey.
After the pilot, a more comprehensive course was delivered in 2014 to 91 participants with 85% coming from within Syria. Their ethnic makeup consisted of Syrian Arabs and Kurds, Sunni, Alawi, Druze and Assyrian denominations. Women made up 30% of attendees. This percentage was lower than the expected number of female participants, and was a direct result of the travel difficulties between Syria and Turkey. As a result of close coordination between SPARK, Civil and Social Relief Organization (CSRO) and the University of Gaziantep (UoG), Syrian students and activists attended five courses taught by members of the Union of Free Syrian Academics and Syrian Centre for Political and Strategic studies (two main Academic bodies in exile) together with Syrian Academics abroad and International lecturers in:
· Reconstruction planning, logistics and local economic development;
· Applied research for transition and social engineering of the conflict society;
· Utility management in crisis situations;
· Foundations of entrepreneurship in conflict and post-conflict society;
· Youth communication in conflict affected societies