Eight years ago I travelled to Syria for the first and I hope not for the last time. I was 15 and visiting my father after several years estranged and to see family who I had never seen or spoken to before. My father, my uncles and I voyaged for two weeks across Syria, from Aleppo (the city my family is from), to Latakia and to Damascus, where I met many members of my family – many who are sadly no longer with us.
I could talk about many things on that trip, the beauty of Syria, the kindness of its people, the historic sites and the clear seedlings of problems that were to grow so fast. But I would like to tell you about one of my cousins, Doaha, who I remember vividly as a smiling, playful, clever girl.
A year younger than I, when we first met she was waiting for the results of her school exams with great trepidation. I could see in her eyes the importance of these results. If she didn’t do well, she wouldn’t be able to carry on at school and progress to what would be our equivalent of year 10. For her that meant one thing: a life of early marriage and children, with no independence and no freedom. She was among the first girls in the family to have such educational opportunities. Her father, my uncle, was supportive in her studies but would not hesitate in finding her a husband if she failed. Fortunately, and due to her hard work she didn’t. Eight years later and despite the horrors inflicted upon the people of Syria, Doaha is safe. But I fear the future for her and the future for her children is uncertain and perilous.
‘For her that meant one thing. A life of early marriage and children, with no independence, no freedom’
Without a decent education and academics to provide it, what chances do Syria’s young people have to go to university and change their country for the better? I could see all around me how education was essential as a means to improve people’s lives in Syria. Indeed all countries require education to flourish and equally the free exchange of knowledge, open debate, free press and freedom of belief and opinion. In my view these are the corner stones that we must build our world upon.
‘…all countries require education to flourish and equally the free exchange of knowledge, open debate, free press and freedom of belief and opinion are in my view the corner stones that we must build our world upon.’
I’m sure you’ll agree in today’s turbulent world this mission represents an ever present and pressing global issue. It’s also something that you can do something about. Council for At Risk Academics (CARA) is a charity that we are in the process of establishing here at UWE. CARA was first established in 1933 by leading British academics and scientists of the day to provide refuge and support for academic colleagues who were being forced by Nazi discrimination and violence to leave Germany and Austria. Sadly, the need to protect science and learning did not end with Hitler’s defeat and CARA’s work is as important today as ever. CARA’s mission statement is to assist academics who are subjected to persecution, to defend academic freedom and to advance education by defending academics who have a critical role as educators.
It’s true to say that as a half-Syrian-half-British Sociology student I can appreciate the work that CARA does more than most. It’s also true to say that I first became inspired to help CARA after witnessing, through contact with my family in Syria, the horrors of the current war that has claimed so many lives. The grief is hard to bear, but sitting idly by makes me equally sorrowful because it’s not only lives that are being lost, futures are being lost also. Futures of people currently struggling in refugee camps or internally displaced, lacking so many of the things you and I take for granted, not least the chance of a decent education. Currently CARA is helping a number of academics from Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Eritrea and many other countries, giving many academics, and those they inspire and teach the chance to change the future of their homeland. Academics globally face many challenges including kidnap for ransom, persecution due to religion, race, nationality, sexuality and political opinion, as well as the challenges all persecuted people face. When I applied to become a Student Ambassador for CARA, as I have said, Syria and its plight was part of my motivation, but I can honestly say without timidity that I was and am concerned with the creation of a better world.
Since 2003 over 400 academics have been assassinated in Iraq alone and thousands have fled.
The total amount of asylum applications to the UK in 2013 was 23,499, a 17% rise on 2012, the number is projected to rise significantly this year.
CARA has assisted over 9,000 academics since it began working in 1933.
So with this in mind do I think I can and should help? – Yes I do. Do I think student action can help? – Yes I do. Can a charity like CARA make a big difference with the right help and support? – Absolutely!
By Sammy Dellou