If the entire population of Lisbon was wiped out within nine years, how would we react?
We are all aware of the war in Syria, which has been tearing the country apart since 2010, causing the death of an estimated 500,000 people and forcing millions of others to flee their homes and become refugees.
In this age of mass social media, we can sometimes become desensitised to the suffering of nameless citizens who live in faraway countries, but at Aljezur International School the students, teachers and parents have a special interest in the news from Syria. Since 2015, they have been in regular contact with Abdo Al Morie, who is the director of Alwan Kindergarten in Hass, in Idlib province. They first made contact with Abdo through Algarve-based charity “Campanha Pela Vida Algarve” when the school in Aljezur became a collection point for the donations that were sent to a refugee camp in Lesbos.
Abdo is 30 years old and studied English Literature at Aleppo University. He dreamt of travelling and teaching English after his studies and graduated in 2012. By this time, there were already refugees in and around his village whose children were being deprived of an education as the local infrastructure could not cope with such large numbers. For the first year after his degree, Abdo taught children from his home and at local schools on a voluntary basis, but it quickly became clear that more capacity was needed. So he sourced a small team of teachers and opened Alwan Kindergarten in 2014. They were initially funded by the American NGO “Bridge of Peace Syria” and teachers worked for very low wages or as volunteers.
Alwan Kindergarten quickly grew in size to 150 students and, with the help of funding from Aljezur International School, flourished until 25 October 2016 when the village was bombarded with missiles, which targeted over 20 schools in the area. Hundreds of innocent men, women and children were killed, including a five-year old boy from Alwan Kindergarten and his mother, who worked at the school.
At this point, parents felt it was too dangerous to send their children to school and Alwan was forced to close temporarily. However, Abdo knew there was a great need in the area for education about risks, as many children were playing with unexploded war material, resulting in severe injury and even death. Abdo and his team of volunteers launched a programme of risk education and travelled round many villages in the area, holding lessons for children and adults.
Abdo is now married and has a beautiful two-year-old boy. In August of this year, his village of Hass once again became the target of relentless missile attacks and Abdo had to make the incredibly difficult decision to take his young family to a safer place. At the moment, they are a mile from the Turkish border living in a building with 25 other families.
In spite of the unimaginable horror he has witnessed and the countless friends and family members he has lost over the last nine years, he is humbled and grateful that this article is being included in ECO123.
There are good people everywhere and Abdo is one of the millions of unsung heroes around the world who selflessly help those in need. Let’s all remember them when we moan about our own lives or when we ignore others who may need our help.
For more information about Abdo’s project, or to donate to Syrian refugees, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and/or email@example.com.
Happy New Year!