From the Ground in Syria
We entered the country on a Tuesday.
Crossing the border went off without a hitch.
But this trip was different than most. The devastation served as a constant reminder that we were there for the sole purpose of supporting at-risk students, and that, most of all – “it’s worth it.”
As we kicked off the week-long scouting trip, we were eager to meet with local partners, Syrian students, and to learn as much as we possibly could during our short stay. Each day, we listened to one story after another of students describing what it was like to study and pursue their career goals in the midst of war.
Even in our brief time in country, we saw glimpses of it. At the end of our first night, we walked back to the hotel from a nearby restaurant. The street was eerily quiet.
When I was in Damascus last April, I walked these same streets. Only last time, the street was alive with the sounds of bustling shops and restaurants. The calm street I now faced was a far cry from the scene I had witnessed only 10 months before. And after repeated attempts of asking our local contacts, the story slowly emerged.
“The reason it is so quiet is because there was a bombing last night. Right here, in these streets. Over 25 people were killed instantly and dozens more were sent to the hospital.”
They began pulling up Facebook photos of the victims.
“This girl – she died instantly.
This one – she lost her leg and is in critical condition.”
To them, this wasn’t just the latest breaking news story, or even war statistics – these victims were members of their community, and for many, friends and family members.
Our hearts broke with the families who had just endured loss. At the same time, Edison and I also caught each other’s glance with a knowing look. We were originally scheduled to arrive the night before, the night of the bombing, but we last minute decided to stay an extra day in Iraq. It occurred to us that we easily could have been in the blast radius had we arrived the day before as planned.
Life is fragile in war zones, and every day is a gift.
We then traveled up to Aleppo. The main road was closed as it is frequently attacked by ISIS insurgents, so we instead took an alternate route that kept us on the road for nearly six hours. We were nervous for the long, perilous travel day ahead. As we often say, “the unknown is always the scariest part.”
The trip was worth it. Upon arrival, we met with students and walked the halls of the school we are now partnered with.
We were impressed with the faculty and staff, and pleasantly surprised by how thoughtful and well-spoken the students were. Many even communicated with us in English! It was such a privilege to sit with these young people, to hear about their dreams for a peace-filled Syria, and how they planned to personally contribute to the peacebuilding process.
The school in Aleppo was first opened over one hundred years ago. At the height of the conflict, however, ISIS insurgents took over and occupied the school for two years, destroying much of the school in the process. As a result, the school was forced to close down, which caused many students to stop their education.
While the school has reopened its doors, many students and their families are still struggling. With limited economic opportunities, families find it difficult to afford school fees while the school grapples with paying teachers and staff.
In one of the classrooms we visited, we met a sweet young girl. We’ll call her Sarah (for security reasons). Sarah recalled a story of how she begged her dad to take her to get some sweets from the corner store. Because of the war, it had been quite some time since she had last eaten sweets, so she thought she might prod just a bit more. “Just one!” she cried. Giving in to her request, he finally agreed and walked her down the street to buy her some sweets. Along the way, a bomb went off nearby and, devastatingly, Sarah lost her dad along with one of her legs.
Since the tragedy, her mom has struggled to care for Sarah and her siblings. Sarah’s dad had been the primary breadwinner. The financial burden of becoming the sole provider of the family, the mounting medical bills, and losing her husband on top of it all… it all felt like too much for Sarah's mother.
It was amazing, however, to see Sarah talk about her story. Incredibly, she was all smiles – she was still so hopeful about the future. She even shared with us how the school community rallied around her and her family in their time of need.
In the same way, it is our desire to walk alongside the school in their time of need. We want to partner with the school as they continue to raise up the next generation of future leaders and peacebuilders in Syria.
It costs just $130 per year to send each student to school. With your support, we are looking to provide scholarships to as many as 880 students at our partner school.
Will you join us? If you’re like us, you’ve watched the crisis in Syria unfold from afar. And like us, you’ve probably asked yourself, “what can I do?” Well, this is a good place to start. Make a difference in the lives of students like Sarah – start with one.