A Finnish teacher who educated IS children in Syria’s camps through text message has been identified

A Finnish teacher who educated IS children in Syria’s camps through text message has been identified

Her daily routine lasted a year starting May 2020, and she worked remotely like many other teachers.

Except Ms Taimela's kids were in a detention camp in northern Syria, far from her Finnish desk.

She taught courses ranging from mathematics to geography in both Finnish and English over WhatsApp.

Her students were 23 Finnish youngsters residing in al-Hol camp, a large city of tents for IS supporters. There dwell 60,000 people, mostly women and children from dozens of countries, including Europe.

Ms Taimela's students were among them.

"The children deserve an education," she told the BBC.
They could only get informal education at charity-run schools before Ms Taimela's lessons. As soon as the US-backed Kurdish-led troops defeated IS in Syria, the camp became their prison.

Many children have been detained there for years while their home nations examine the security concerns of returning their moms, who they worry may still be radicalised.

Meanwhile, the youngsters grew up in horrific conditions, according to rights groups.
Late in 2019, Finland's centre-left coalition government proposed returning the 30 Finnish kids home.

The contentious move underscored the legal dilemma of taking children from their mothers. It sent a special envoy, Jussi Tanner, to negotiate with the Kurdish-led authorities running the camp.

It was a long process. Weeks proceeded to months, and Mr Tanner considered intermediate steps to protect these children's rights under Finnish law.

During the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, Mr Tanner had an idea. Could al-Finnish Hol's youngsters be taught remotely, like Finnish students are?
The Lifelong Learning Foundation was commissioned to build a distance teaching programme.

The foundation discovered the appropriate candidate in Ms Taimela, a multicultural educator.

Tuija Tammelander, the foundation's director of distant education, contacted her.

Ms Taimela and another teacher created a specific curriculum in weeks. She sent daily lessons to boost their academic skills and prepare them for life in Finland.

Unlikely, she would only communicate with her students over WhatsApp.

"We'd never done something like this before," Ms Tammelander said, suggesting the concept was unique.

Mr Tanner sought the students' mothers for permission to participate.

The first communications were delivered in May last year, with 23 mothers on board.
"Good day! Thursday, May 7th, 2020. 1st day of distant learning! "1st message read

She utilised a photo with sunglasses, a scarf, and a big smile. She presented herself as Saara, a pseudonym.
Her messages were mostly in Finnish, and she used emojis instead of photographs for several chores.

Her curriculum centred on Finnish language and mathematics, with assignments suited to each child's age and ability.

Mme Taimela said she saw progress. Early readers could read complete stories in Finnish, while older students could grasp more complicated linguistic aspects.
Hundreds of text and voice communications helped the kids improve. These texts had to be kept hidden from Kurdish officials and the Finnish public because the mothers couldn't own phones.

Ms Taimela suspected the guards were reading them. The mothers sometimes did not react for weeks, increasing concerns for their safety.

Ms Taimela had lost touch with most of the families by spring. Lessons were abandoned when additional detainees were returned or relocated to the adjacent al-Roj camp.

About 15 Finns remained in Syria, according to Mr Tanner.
The repatriations have sparked political debate in Finland. The nationalist Finns Party has slammed the strategy, claiming it threatens national security.

When asked about the educational initiative, opposition leader Riikka Purra stated she wishes the government "was as concerned about Finns' security."

IS fighters' kids "are innocent of course," she told the BBC. "The Finnish state has gone to great lengths to fulfil the requirements of IS terrorists' families,"

Mr Tanner claimed opposition to repatriations had "milded" and that the teaching initiative had been well received.
Ms Taimela's school is currently closed. Even if they all return home, her students will still be strangers to her.

She has only met one of the mothers, along with some of her students, in a reception centre in Finland.

No need for WhatsApp this time.

"They knew me by voice." "They were shy at first, but eventually came on my lap. We were both reading and on the phone."