Finland has taught clandestine classes to Islamic State children in Syria. From her home in the suburbs of Helsinki, Ilona Taimela exchanged hundreds of messages in front of her laptop for more than a year with her students in Syria, children of Finns of members of the jihadist organization.
Secretly and through the courier service, this teacher was asked last year to teach children detained in the Syrian camp of Al-Hol, and guarded by Kurdish forces.
“Some of them didn’t know what a building was, what a house was, because they were always in a tent. So we had to explain to them what a house is, they didn’t know what a bed, a chair, a table was, a kitchen. There were many things they needed to learn, “explains Taimela.
The Al Hol camp, overcrowded, lacking in hygiene and the scene of violence, is home to more than 60,000 displaced people, a third of whom are children of foreign mothers who came to Syria to marry Islamic State jihadist fighters.
“From the first day they started they were very active and they sent us voice messages. The kids were like, ‘Hi!’ So hearing their voices was really nice seeing that we were teaching. We would chat and say ‘How are you?’, ‘Nice to meet you, “says Taimela.
In the middle of this year, this distance learning ended due to a lack of students and the project was made public. Taimela is now looking to find out how she can use this model in other crisis regions. It has even received requests from Greece, Burma and Colombia.
After several months of schooling, the mother of a six-year-old girl revealed to the teacher that her daughter could already read.
“It was a + eureka + moment,” says Taimela
For this teacher, who claims to feel more sadness than anger at these mothers, many of them were vulnerable and “their religion promised them a kind of paradise.”
Although Ilona Taimela had come to the idea that she would never hear from the repatriated children, in July 2020, she was called to a reception center in Finland.
There he met some of his students for the first time. “They were a few hours full of emotions,” he recalls.
The Finnish Foreign Ministry has so far repatriated 23 minors and seven adults. According to Tanner, only about 15 people – including ten children – remain, difficult to locate, in the fields of Syria.