Wandering the Middle East... and I Stumbled Upon a Treasure (Part One)

By Rich A Rosendahl

In Arabic, Jusoor means bridge.  But near the Syrian border in Lebanon, Jusoor means something more; it’s the name of an organization that represents the future of Syria and two of the schools they founded to educate its youth.

Last week, my wife and I spent 7 days volunteering alongside educators that most of the world will, sadly, will never know.  They are almost all Syrian refugees, struggling to survive and stranded in a foreign land. They are led by administrators that share their plight and all of this connects Principals to teachers to students in a beautiful and tragic way.

Their common struggle as refugees unites them as a family, bonded by the brokenness of their homeland and their shared dreams to someday return and rebuild Syria.

The Principals, Sara and Izdihar, beam with smiles that could easily fill a room.  Accompanied with skill, intellect and hard work, it’s no surprise these two women were chosen to lead their respective schools (one inside a refugee camp, the other in an old paint factory)

Their Vice Principals, Osama, Ahmed and Khaled (all men) carry themselves with a mix of stoicism, compassion and humor all wrapped in a deep and meaningful desire for their teachers and students to succeed.

And then there are the teachers.  Men and woman, who like their leaders, lost everything to War including friends and family who are now ‘under the ground’, as one teacher who spoke little English tried to explain to me.  They are like the architects of the new Syria, laying the foundation one class, one lesson at a time. 

Lastly, you have the students, about 1000 total between the two schools.  Most live in camps in ‘tents’ which are really more like makeshift shacks, pieced together with tarp, wood or any other materials that could be collected.  The contrast between the hardships of ‘Home’ and the brightly decorated classrooms is as stark as a mid-winter blizzard and an early spring sunrise.   

Before the school day even starts, these students can be heard laughing and playing with the friends and companions that the Jusoor schools have made possible.  Connecting them in learning, with an exhausting but effective hands-on approach executed to near perfection by each one of their passionate teachers.

These schools, filled with Principals, teachers and students who are almost all Syrian refugees has become a safe haven of sorts and ground zero for the future of Syria – they are a beacon of Hope, a family of youth preparing to undo the mess they will inherit.   

The lessons at Jusoor are not just Math, Science, English and Arabic, there is also a section taught, and woven into the curriculum, called ‘Identity’. This is a time when students are taught about Syria, what it means to be Syrian and what their homeland was like before the war which began before many of these kids were even born.

It’s a time, for example, when one of their teachers (and one of our volunteers) dressed in more traditional Bedu clothing (long robe and head wrap) to provide a fun, visual day of cultural learning.  Or like when one of the teachers I was volunteering with taught about cotton in science class and it’s more significant role in the Syrian economy until the late 70’s.

Often we think of schools as a place just to learn but at Jusoor school’s, it has become a place to prepare future leaders who will be tasked with rebuilding an entire country, an entire society - all while they, together, struggle just to survive as refugees.

Really, they are all heroes, champions of a new Syria, the Syria that is being formed right now in the minds of these youngsters, eagerly learning from their gifted teachers...

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