For Arts Students Inside Syria, Continuing Their Studies Is an Ordeal
Despite the unprecedented financial crisis in Lebanon, the Beirut-based organisation Ettijahat–Independent Culture has continued to support Syrian art students inside and outside their home country.
Most donor organisations are more interested in supporting Syrians based abroad, but Ettijahat has pursued its AJYAL arts education scholarship programme, launched two years ago to support Syrian students where they reside, at home or in select countries abroad. (See a related article, “An Eye on the Cultural Landscape of Syria.”)
One of the programme’s beneficiaries, Sherine Abdel-Aziz, is a fourth-year student in the Department of Theatrical Critique and Dramatic Arts at the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts, in Damascus.
Abdel-Aziz, who was born in Syria’s northeastern city of Qamishli, switched from Damascus University’s Faculty of Science to join the institute. The move “was a qualitative leap in my life,” she told Al-Fanar Media in a Zoom interview. “That’s because of the intersection of dramatic arts studies with writing techniques that I loved since childhood.”
“Travelling from my village in Homs Governorate to Damascus had become impossible due to the security situation.”Youssef Nouri
A former student who quit his acting studies at the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts
However, Abdel-Aziz aspires to leave Syria to complete her postgraduate studies abroad, as there are no such programs in the theatrical arts at Syrian universities and institutes.
“This shortage, as well as the decline in the number of art students in Syria, should encourage donor institutions to launch more scholarships, covering all fields of arts at different levels of study,” she said.
Inspired by Students’ Dreams
Ettijahat’s AJYAL programme has so far enabled 24 Syrians, at home and abroad, to pursue education in all fields of the arts, by fully or partly covering the costs of their studies with scholarships with values between $1,200 and $4,000, said Christine Youakim, the programme’s manager.
The latest round of grant recipients was announced earlier this year, with awards going to six Syrians who will study in Damascus and two who will study in Europe.
“The dreams of dozens of Syrian students to complete their art studies are the main motive behind the launch of the programme,” Youakim told Al-Fanar Media, speaking from Beirut via Zoom. “Indications show that the financial factor plays a major role in forcing art students to drop out, given the stressful study requirements that require a full-time dedication.”
Gallery: Syrian Students of the Arts
The AJYAL scholarship requires that applicants from inside Syria be between 18 and 26 years old. Moreover, the support covers their undergraduate studies at the bachelor’s level or at intermediate or higher arts institutes inside Syria only.
While Syrians and Palestinian-Syrians living in other countries can apply for an AJYAL scholarship, the scholarship cannot be used in a country different from their country of residence, according to an online document about the application process.
Such restrictions are just one of the conditions that limit opportunities for arts students residing in Syria. (See a related article, “Syrian Students’ Dreams of Studying Abroad Hit New Roadblocks.”)
One student, Youssef Nouri, 26, quit his acting studies at the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts after failing to obtain a scholarship to study abroad.
“Travelling from my village in Homs Governorate to Damascus had become impossible due to the security situation,” Nouri told Al-Fanar Media in a phone call. “It was difficult to pursue my studies at the institute that requires spending 85 percent of my day there.”
Few scholarships are available to arts students residing inside Syria, despite their small numbers. Restrictions on receiving money from abroad, plus frequent Internet and power outages, make even completing an application a “difficult issue,” Nouri said.
“The dreams of dozens of Syrian students to complete their art studies are the main motive behind the launch of the programme.”Christine Youakim
The AJYAL programme’s manager
Syrian academics face similar problems. Maysoon Ali, who heads the acting department at the dramatic arts institute, was repeatedly denied funding to participate in art or academic events to which she was invited outside Syria.
“The organizers personally told me that the rejection is related to donors’ preference to support Syrians living abroad,” Ali told Al-Fanar Media in a phone call.
Facing Financial Hardships
Ali, who was the institute’s vice dean for academic affairs for several years, said most of the university’s students “live in the far suburbs of Damascus. They suffer financial hardships, as they are children of middle-class families, and cannot work while being full-time students.”
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While some Syrians receive scholarships to continue their arts studies in Syria, they are calling on the supporting institutions to expand their postgraduate programs, which no academic institution in Syria provides.