REIMAGINE SYRIA PROGRAM
By: Shivang Patel, GNG Development Assistant
Since Syria’s civil war started in 2011, more than half of Syria’s 22 million citizens have been displaced. The Syrian conflict can seem too big or overwhelming to fix. But behind the statistics, there are stories of real people trying to build new homes for their families. True to our mission of bridging dialogue and fostering understanding, GNG created a program in late 2016 called, “Reimagine Syria: Sharing Our Stories,” to help make the conflict and its complexities more accessible to youth. Students living in varying contexts, who may have limited understanding of the Syrian crisis, investigated the human impact and what it means to be a refugee through class activities, virtual reality, and a webcast.
After a semester of class activities youth from Jordan, Morocco, and the US, including Syrian youth whose lives have been impacted by the crisis, had the opportunity to share their own stories and learn about the opportunities and challenges youth face around the world in an hour-long webcast. Omar, a Syrian, who is now a student at JFK High School in Patterson, New Jersey expressed how the crisis has destroyed young people’s dreams and futures. Others from Amman, Jordan, shared similar sentiments, saying that the crisis has not only left a deep, emotional impact on them, but has also scattered relatives all over the world.
The crisis’ impact goes beyond the emotional toll Syrians and their families are facing because the financial burdens are great as well. Hamad, a Syrian refugee student who participated in the webcast, came to Jordan in 2013. In order to combat the financial challenges he and his family were facing, Hamad had to leave school. He was able to eventually return to school, but has to continue to balance work and school. Despite this hardship, Hamad has a positive outlook on his future.
“[My struggles] have helped me become more confident and independent. [My] goal is to become a programmer or engineer,” said Hamad.
Reimagine Syria was recently featured in the New York Times. Please click here to read the article and access the program’s curriculum.
Although there are big differences between life in Syria and life in their new countries, making new friends and assimilating to their communities is a goal for many of the Syrian students who participated in the webcast. A Syrian student at JFK High School mentioned how she though she was only going to have a small circle of friends and a lack of opportunities to share her stories, but instead has been met with the opposite.
“We thought that our futures were destroyed, but in the US we’ve found opportunity and hope.”
The Reimagine Syria program has allowed students to engage with Syrian refugees who are right in their community. Deanna, a student from JFK High School, said, “At first I wasn’t aware that there were Syrian students at our school. We have the privilege of hearing directly from them.”
Students expressed wanting to make positive changes in their communities to help their Syrian peers who are now a part of said communities. At JFK High School, students mentioned that a peer mentorship program will be incorporated next year, and new immigrant will have a designated person to guide them because they recognize that new students “often lack the knowledge of how to thrive and assimilate.”
Through this exchange, students learned from each other and developed empathy, global awareness, and critical thinking. They were able to build their capacity to understand different perspectives, feelings, and experiences of others. Students were able to deepen their understanding of the opportunities and challenges youth face around the world, and synthesize and reflect upon their learnings.
Reimagine Syria: Sharing Our Stories is made possible thanks to the generous support of our partners at The Bezos Family Foundation, an award from the Aspen Institute Stevens Initiative with support from the U.S. Department of State and the Bezos Family Foundation, and additional support from PhotoWings, the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan, and the U.S. Consulate in Lahore, Pakistan.