As Raqqa is Bombed, a Syrian Student Dreams of New Buildings

Editor’s Note: This story is an accurate account of a student’s experience. Unfortunately, scammers have subsequently used some of the details in this story to create fake crowdfunding campaigns. Beware of any such campaigns. They in no way reflect on the author’s character.

CAIRO—I come from Raqqa, Syria, a city that it is often in the news now. I am left with the haunting images of what once was my home town. My dream to reach my full potential has left me with few options, if any. I’ve knocked on many doors and turned over many stones before I decided to share my story and my plea for help with you here.

My name is Haneen ALMohammad. I am currently a student seeking a master’s degree in architecture in the Faculty of Engineering, at Cairo University. I have finished my courses, and I am currently in the process of completing my dissertation on rebuilding infrastructure for cultural and educational environments in post-conflict communities.

I obtained my bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering and graduated in 2010 among the top of my class in Ittihad Private University in Al Raqqa. I worked as an assistant lecturer at the architectural department of the engineering faculty, focusing on teaching and conducting research in the fields of architecture and the environment. I also worked as a junior architect in a professional architectural office.

Although the experiences–both personal and professional–I gained working in Syria were of great value to me, the social and political situation inside the country continued to deteriorate, making it dangerous for myself and countless other students to continue our studies.

I tried to get a visa to Slovakia. I got a full scholarship and thought that would qualify me for a visa. As it turns out, there was more to it than that. Even after meeting the embassy’s full requirement for the student visa, I was denied entry. As a Syrian, I began to realize the curse on my kind. So I tried other avenues.

I moved to Cairo in October of 2012. I had heard about a decree that said Syrian students are to be treated like Egyptians, granted the privilege of studying at Egyptian public universities and paying the same fees as Egyptians. Motivated by that, I enrolled in the department where I am now.

I registered in the master’s degree program for the 2012-2013 academic year, being financially independent and having only myself to rely on. I was happy with the $200 annual tuition as an affordable solution.

At the end of the first semester of the 2013-2014 academic year, I had finished my first work in the program and paid my fees to the university as originally intended and started my dissertation during the second semester of the same academic year under supervision.

In December 2014, the government retracted the decree concerning Syrian students working toward master’s and doctoral degrees in Egyptian public universities. I was asked to pay international student fees in British pounds, a very expensive currency for me.

Even though such a newly adopted process would traditionally only apply to new students, the university chose to apply it retroactively. Therefore, despite the fact that I had paid all previously due bills in full, I have found myself having to pay new fees as a foreign student, even for my first semesters.

I’m the only Syrian student who registered for the master’s degree program at the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University in Egypt who hasn’t paid the international tuition fees yet. And with each academic year I attend, I have to pay an extra 1,500 British pounds in addition to the 3,000 British pounds that they already charged me. I am not even allowed to pause my candidacy toward a degree unless I pay first the previous year’s fees in British pounds. That means, for instance, that I could not take a break to work to earn more money to pay for my degree without losing all of the progress I have made.

I do not have the ability to get this kind of money. My family increasingly depends on me for survival and I cannot imagine ever having access to those sorts of funds.

My dream is to continue my studies and learn to rebuild infrastructures for post-conflict communities. This is my last academic year and if I don’t pay, I will miss my chance to graduate and it will be as if I never did the degree.

I want to conclude my studies so badly that I reached out to whomever might help, but I found only closed doors. Then the idea of crowd funding came to me as the last straw to help me raise the 3,000 sterling pounds I need.

In middle of all this nonsense, I have to survive, I have to give my life meaning and purpose, and I tend to do so by studying, searching and creating. If you are interested in helping me to cover my tuition fees in order to graduate, you can contribute here.

Right now, I am one of a relatively small number of Syrian students in Egypt who are pursuing master’s degrees. It has been difficult to obtain our degrees due to the ever-changing rules, regulations and fees being imposed by the universities on Syrian students pursuing advanced studies. And each student has to pay different fees depending on what field they are studying and at which Egyptian public university they are registered.

Investing in Syrian students is a critical step that has to be taken in order to pave the ground for the future. I acknowledge that any talk of post-conflict reconciliation is premature. My hope is that at some point it will become relevant. But if the Syrian expatriate communities—or even individuals—can reflect on previous experience from around the globe to support national endeavors and civil societies to eradicate sectarian and ethnic violence whenever the conflict comes to a halt, a change might come.

Anxiety, grief, and depression would be luxuries for me now. I only want to study and then work. I hope that some people out there might come to the aid of myself and other students like me.


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