'I study in a cave': Going to school in Syria

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TRAMLA/DOUMA, Syria, June 27 (Reuters) - Syrian student Ali Khaled Stouf has to walk down several steps into a hole in the ground to get inside his school -- a cave.

There for four hours each morning, he studies subjects like Arabic, English, maths and religion, sitting on a rug with dozens of children in the underground space in Tramla, an opposition-held village in Syria's northwestern Idlib province.

"I study in a cave. The conditions are not very good but the professor and his wife treat us very well," the 14-year-old, originally from neighboring Hama province, said. "We sit on the ground and often we don't see clearly because it is dark."

His teacher Mohamed and his wife, also from Hama, have opened up their underground home to teach some 100 children, whose families have been displaced by the Syrian conflict.

See inside the cave where these students attend school:

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Going to school in Syria
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Going to school in Syria
Internally displaced children attend a class inside a cave in the rebel-controlled village of Tramla, in Idlib province, Syria March 27, 2016. A group of people, who live in a cave, have set up a school for children during the day. The cave accommodates around 120 students, divided into two shifts. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi 
Girls attend a discussion under a riddled roof during a celebration marking the end of the school year in the town of Douma, eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria May 21, 2016. The sign on the curtain reads in Arabic, "Childhood in the United Nations, between the dream and reality". REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh 
Girls wait in line during a celebration marking the end of the school year in the town of Douma, eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria May 21, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh 
Internally displaced children walk up the stairs of a cave after attending a class in the rebel-controlled village of Tramla, in Idlib province, Syria March 27, 2016. A group of people, who live in a cave, have set up a school for children during the day. The cave accommodates around 120 students, divided into two shifts. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Internally displaced children attend a class inside a cave in the rebel-controlled village of Tramla, in Idlib province, Syria March 27, 2016. A group of people, who live in a cave, have set up a school for children during the day. The cave accommodates around 120 students, divided into two shifts. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi 
A teacher conducts a lesson for internally displaced children inside a cave in the rebel-controlled village of Tramla, in Idlib province, Syria March 27, 2016. A group of people, who live in a cave, have set up a school for children during the day. The cave accommodates around 120 students, divided into two shifts. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi 
Internally displaced children attend a class inside a cave in the rebel-controlled village of Tramla, in Idlib province, Syria March 27, 2016. A group of people, who live in a cave, have set up a school for children during the day. The cave accommodates around 120 students, divided into two shifts. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi 
Girls wait on a staircase during a celebration marking the end of the school year in the town of Douma, eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria May 21, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh 
Internally displaced girl Yusra Ahmad, 13, attends a class inside a cave in the rebel-controlled village of Tramla, in Idlib province, Syria March 27, 2016. A group of people, who live in a cave, have set up a school for children during the day. The cave accommodates around 120 students, divided into two shifts. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi 
Internally displaced girl Shahed Shahine, 13, attends a class inside a cave in the rebel-controlled village of Tramla, in Idlib province, Syria March 27, 2016. A group of people, who live in a cave, have set up a school for children during the day. The cave accommodates around 120 students, divided into two shifts. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi 
Girls attend a class celebration for successfully completing the school year, in the rebel-held besieged town of Douma, eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh 
Damage is seen inside 'Syria, The Hope' school on the outskirts of the rebel-controlled area of Maaret al-Numan town, in Idlib province, Syria June 1, 2016. The school is partially occupied and it teaches students until fourth grade. The building that is heavily damaged was used by government forces as a base before the rebel fighters took control of the area. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi 
A defaced image of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is pictured on a wall inside 'Syria, The Hope' school on the outskirts of the rebel-controlled area of Maaret al-Numan town, in Idlib province, Syria June 1, 2016. The school is partially occupied and it teaches students until fourth grade. The building that is heavily damaged was used by government forces as a base before the rebel fighters took control of the area. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi 
A boy stands in a mobile educational caravan for children who do not have access to schools on the outskirts of the Syrian rebel-held town of Saraqib, Idlib province March 10, 2016. The group "Saraqib Youth Gathering" created a mobile learning caravan to reach children who have no access to schools in the area. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi 
Children look out of the window of a mobile educational caravan for children who do not have access to schools on the outskirts of the Syrian rebel-held town of Saraqib, Idlib province March 10, 2016. The group "Saraqib Youth Gathering" created a mobile learning caravan to reach children who have no access to schools in the area. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi 
Girls walk through a damaged corridor inside a school in the town of Douma, eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria May 24, 2016. The writing reads in Arabic, " Your shelling will not let the creativity in our hearts and minds die." REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh 
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More than five years of war, which began as a peaceful protest against President Bashar al-Assad and has since drawn in foreign military involvement and allowed for the growth of Islamic State, has displaced millions of Syrian children and limited their access to education.

With schools themselves at times attacked, teachers make do with the basics to provide education.

Mohamed said the primitive, six-month-old school floods when it rains, forcing him to teach outside or in a tent, although he prefers the security underground. "We believe the cave is the safest place from shelling and air strikes and all the students are in one place," he said.

Idlib province is a stronghold of insurgent groups including the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and has been regularly targeted in air strikes by the Syrian government, whose war effort has been boosted by the Russian air force.

At the Souriya al-Ammal (Syria the hope) school, in the town of Maarat al-Numan, corridors and classrooms are bullet-ridden and sometimes crumbling. In one less damaged area, walls have been repainted and the school now has some 250 pupils.

"War has affected education massively; most schools, if not destroyed completely, are damaged," school supervisor Abdullatif al-Rahoum said, adding those who missed out on education are now playing catch up with younger students.

"The biggest challenges we face are the warplanes, which never leave the skies. This always worries students."

In the nearby town of Saraqib, a mobile caravan serves as a classroom, run by a group aiming to reach children who have no access to schooling in the area.

Lack of books is problematic. Teachers in Idlib said they relied on charities or used books printed in neighboring Turkey by the opposition run Directorate of Education.

In the rebel-held town of Douma, outside Damascus, Mounir Abdelaziz, a member of the opposition-run education body, said local schools were using old textbooks, but with changes.

"We follow the same curriculum as the education ministry but with some modifications and articles related to the (Assad) regime deleted," he said.

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