A piece I wrote for Huffington Post. Original can be read here.
The central square of a major Syrian city. Two dozen bodies are piled high, limbs distorted, faces contorted and mutilated. The remaining local residents swarm by, encouraged by the murderers to view the price of resistance.
One witness records the scene, describing it as a “Dantesque horror: the corpses’ shoes were scattered all about; they had tragic faces, their arms outstretched. One, so very young, still had his mouth open, as if he were crying something out…it was a scene of human carnage.”
These visions have become depressingly common as the militants from the self-proclaimed Islamic State (formerly known and hereafter referred to as ISIS) have swept across large swathes of both Syria and Iraq in recent months, massacring thousands and displacing over half a million. Yet this is not Raqqa or other areas controlled by ISIS. This is not even the 21st century.
This morbid scene took place in October 1925, the perpetrators the French colonial occupying force. Following the start of what would become known as the Great Syrian Revolt 1925-7, the bodies of the twenty-four rebels were dragged to the centre of Damascus and portrayed as a lesson for all to see.
Elias Bou Saab, Lebanon’s new minister of education, does not mince his words. “Without more support, the Lebanese education system may collapse. It is that serious,” he says.
The population of the small Middle Eastern country, home to just over 4 million citizens, has swollen by more than a quarter over the past three years. As Syria’s uprising has grown into a vicious civil war, more than a million people have fled across the border into Lebanon. This influx has driven the country’s public education system to the brink. Continue reading “‘This generation of Syrians may be lost if we don’t get help’”
The clouds in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa region may be darkening as the winter storms set in, but Ahmed Saab shows few signs of negativity.
Gesticulating widely, he swings open a door to a room full of smiling children, who promptly stand to greet their headteacher. “These are the second years,” he says, eliciting a sharp communal rebuke. “Sorry, third years,” he laughs.
The leader of the informally named Syrian School of Baalbek has a new spring in his step. Only a few months ago, he had been resigned to losing the institution he founded and that for a year had provided 200 refugee children with their only education. Now an innovative campaign – which crowdsourced the school’s first proper funding – has given him and his students fresh hope.
The story goes back 18 months to when Mr Saab, a newly arrived refugee who had been a headteacher in the central Syrian city of Homs, first noticed dozens of aimless young Syrian refugees on Baalbek’s streets. He started to ask the children why they were not in school.