“I only thought of my degree because it is the result of my hard work. I put it on the dashboard and said, ‘let’s go.’”
Dr Nasser Alzhouri is describing the moment he left Syria. The Alzhouri family had stayed in the country despite the violence of the protracted conflict, but with the bombings edging closer and closer, Dr Nasser knew it was time to flee.
He prepared to travel to Lebanon along with his son, Suliman. But on the night of departure, unbeknown to his father, Suliman snuck back into their house.
“My home was on fire. Why did I come back? I just wanted my university card” says Suliman.
Despite the risk to his life, Suliman’s belief in the importance of education compelled him to return. He says this passion was handed down from his father:
“He always wanted us to study. He wished we’d play an active role in society.”
Suliman has certainly fulfilled his father’s wish.
Before departing Syria, he was a law student, with a keen interest in justice and human rights. Now he works as a teacher in the Tal Abbas refugee camp in Lebanon, helping to provide education to thousands of displaced Syrians.
“My work is for the love of my homeland,” he says, “we have a home. We are the children of Syria, Syria needs me and needs them.”
Suliman’s sense of duty to his country inspires him to teach. But to his students, he’s the inspiration, and when it comes to the future; he’s encouraging them to think big. They dream of going to university, “teaching French” and “becoming a doctor to heal the sick.”
This aspirational spirit has been hard to foster, with the children having experienced so much tragedy over the course of their young lives:
“I remember I was in the third grade,” a student says, recalling her life before the war. “All the children were happy. I remember the beautiful time when dad was still with us.”
But with Suliman’s help, she has managed to find hope.
“The school is my second home,” she says, smiling. “It gives me more than I give to it. I would be so happy to go back home (to Syria). I’d go home today. Why wait for tomorrow?”
Dr Nasser knows too well how the war has affected an entire generation of children. “They can’t get an education. This is a tragedy. There’s another generation that hasn’t even begun to study. They’ve never been in school. We’re in this situation for five years; whole generations are lost.”
However, the efforts of his son and other young men and women give him cause for optimism:
“I’m so proud of him,” Alzhouri tells of Suliman. “Especially in this difficult period our children are living in. He brings back smiles to their faces.”