By Lily Wolfson
New York City, New York
Dana, now seventeen years old, applied at the last minute before the deadline to the Syrian Youth Empowerment (SYE) initiative. Dana was hoping to pursue her interests in science through a college degree outside of Syria, which SYE could help her with.
She was accepted to the program, through which we connected. The Iris is collaborating with SYE to recruit dozens of young student journalists from Syria and Iraq—Dana was one of them.
When asked if she would be willing to discuss her experience as a student in Syria, she said, “This whole issue about Syrian students is real and needs to be spoken about, so I am more than ready!” Our interview took place over WhatsApp video chat because, in Syria, Dana cannot use Zoom or Skype.
“I found SYE by coincidence...I never thought that I would be accepted,” Dana said. “I am interested in neuroscience and the theory of evolution. It is my passion. In Syria, I can’t study any of that.” Dana said of SYE, “They showed us the path to leave this country and get a proper education. They are just lifesavers.” After much hard work and preparation with SYE, Dana is planning to apply to universities all across Europe and North America, having just completed the SAT and various college entrance exams.
Dana said her parents are supportive of her decision to study away from home “because they know the situation in Syria.” She plans to return to Syria only to see her family. “If I could see them outside of Syria, that would be even better,” she said.
When asked about her opinions on prospects for peace in Syria, Dana said, “I believe that education can do a lot. Spreading knowledge can do a lot more than we can imagine. Ignorance is widespread here, and that is causing a lot of issues. Knowledge and awareness are the right solutions.”
In school, Dana and her classmates do not learn about historical events like 9/11 or the Holocaust. Dana wishes Americans understood that “Syrian students need a better education, and a lot of things are ruined. The whole process of education is collapsing.”
“Syrian schools destroyed me with the mental effects not caused strictly by war but also just by being a high school student. Any action that I made caused me to receive a lot of criticism.” Dana recalled usually being the only girl to play soccer with the boys.
In school, Dana learned how to read and write English. She learned how to speak English on her own, though, in sixth grade, when she started listening exclusively to English-speaking musicians and watching TV shows and films in English.
On safety in Syria, Dana said, “If you were walking on the street, even if it were a public street, you have the danger of being kidnapped, shot, killed, raped, robbed. Just when walking, you have all of that on your mind.”
Dana is afraid of both “the stereotyping and lack of freedom to talk about anything.” She said, “My biggest fear is to stay here because we as Syrians, especially students, don’t see any future in Syria.”