(a story from last semester)
In December, I covered the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria with my students. I could limit coursework to discussing college majors, rooms of a house, and going on a date, but my sophomores are mature and eager to learn about global topics that they might not otherwise have exposure to.
I didn’t go into too much detail regarding the proxy war that is tearing through Syria today- the Kurds, Daesh, the Western backed rebels, Pro-Assad forces, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia… the perpetrators of violence change with every war in history, but the victims are always the same.
So the focus of class was the long journey that refugees make to find a new home, and the struggles they encounter when starting a new life. I showed them a very touching, 18 minute documentary about a Syrian family that relocated to Canada.
The two hour class was mostly somber but there were some funny moments.
Me: what are some challenges Syrian refugees will face after they move to Germany, Canada, or Sweden?
Susan: language, making new friends, getting into college, finding a job… LIFE!!!!
There is a relief organization CARE with which you can send messages of support via its website, which will be translated into Arabic and shared with refugee children. I instructed my students to write some nice words, which I would later collect and send together as one big letter.
An exchange between Jess and Emory as they gather their thoughts:
Jess: Maybe they can come to China, “the Chinese people and government warmly welcome you!”
Emory: 别叫他们来中国！我们已经够穷了! (Don’t tell them to come here! We are already so poor!)
Messages that didn’t make the cut:
“The disaster is temporary. Don’t worry about it” – Linda
“I know you maybe lose your husband or wife, even more awful…” – William (this is my fault; his original letter was too generic so I made him rewrite it, but this is too real)
“Forrest’s mother had told him ‘life is a box of chocolates, you never know what is gonna get’” – Nancy (not very comforting, from one of my best students, sadly)
“It is well acknowledged that one’s greatest enemy is actually oneself. Don’t be beaten by yourself” – Catherine (this is advice for a MacBook wielding, vegan cleansing, safe-space seeking, asexual Librarian Studies 22 year old, not for someone whose house was hit by a barrel bomb)
“I think the government will take some measures to resolve these problems” – Shelly (except it’s been five years and the world has done nothing but send more weapons to Syria)
In the end I gathered some of the most thoughtful and sympathetic messages to submit. I didn’t feel right correcting the grammar errors in these short messages- sometimes it’s best to leave things the way they are.
Some days my kids drive me crazy, but today I could not be prouder to have spent two hours with them.
The final letter I submitted (in many pieces, due to an inexplicable 255 character limit per message):
My name is Harrison – I am an English Teacher with the American Peace Corps program in Lanzhou, China. My students have learned about the ongoing crisis in Syria, and wish to show solidarity with the millions of refugees that have left Syria for a better future. Below are some of their messages:
“We hope you can go through the difficult period. We all are together with you, and with an optimist attitude face the new day! Let us face it together, arm in arm” – Susan
“Hello, I’m Sunshine, sophomore student of Lanzhou University. I’m sorry to hear that you got away from your country and moved another new place/ country. the life is going on. I wish you hold on and start your new life. And no matter what happened, you do believe the God all be here with you and we all too.” – Sunshine
Courage is like muscle,
We strengthen it with use it
Don’t let reality blocking
the way of your dreams
Regardless of how difficult
Don’t be terrified”
“I’m Coulson, a college student from China. I feel so sad that I heard you had to leave your home and go to another place. It’s not your problem and you can’t stop it. Just like we can’t choose where we are born, but we can decide our future. Don’t feel so sad, because I always be here with you. Always!” – Coulson
“I feel so pity for the suffering you have experienced. Terrible wars made you have to leave your motherland and go to another cities. However, please keep it in mind that god will bless you whenever and wherever you are. And you could come back to your hometown in the near future” – Lorin
“Everyone will try one’s best to help you. Please believe that there are a lot of kind and love people in this world. Please live strongly for your family” – Win, Alice, Dora, Tina
“I truly feel the sufferings for you. Sunshine always after the rain. Comrades, don’t be sad, don’t lose heart. You will rebuild your homes. I wish you return to the classroom so you can study.” – Jack
Disclaimer: All opinions shared in this blog are the author’s own, and do not represent the views of any outside organization, including but not limited to the United States Government and the Peace Corps.