BY DARBY JOYCE
The immense struggles facing refugees from war-torn Syria has been broadcast around the world as pictures of overcrowded boats and drowned children have gone viral on the Internet and countless news channels as they flee to countries that are opening their borders to them.
But as moving as the photos and stories may be, it is difficult for some to truly understand the impact of the war in Syria.
After all, the nation is over 5,800 miles away from Salisbury, and photos alone are not enough to truly grasp the magnitude of what is happening there.
Since the beginning of the unrest in 2011, approximately 7.6 million Syrians have been displaced, with hundreds of thousands more killed in the crossfire.
In the past few months, approximately 350,000 desperate refugees have set sail across the Mediterranean Sea, hoping to find new promise in the nations of the European Union or possibly the United States.
If they survive the treacherous journey without their transport capsizing, they find themselves in further trouble on the other side; the Czech Republic and Hungary have closed their borders to refugees, while the United Kingdom only allows four thousand a year to enter.
The crisis has sent countless Syrians to every corner of the world, where they rebuild and learn from their experience as refugees. For Ahmad Adib Sha’ar and his family, that corner of the world was Salisbury, Maryland.
Sha’ar was a professor in his home city of Aleppo, Syria, when the uprising began. As students began to depart from the university and tensions continued to rise, he realized that the conflict between the government and the rebels would be no small battle.
“I waited two years for things to get better,” Sha’ar said. “But eventually I knew it wouldn’t. That’s when we left.” His family of nine is now scattered across the world; while he, his wife, and two of his sons live in the United States, his other children live in Germany, Malaysia and Hungary, with another of his sons killed in Syria. Smiling as he said it, he mentioned that he hopes to be reunited with them one day.
Here at SU, the professor is in his first year of teaching digital communications for computer science students. A renowned teacher in Aleppo, he was reassigned to Salisbury University through New York’s International Institute of Education, which has been supporting Syrian students and teachers as they try and continue learning in the face of the civil war.
Sha’ar commended the administration here for their kindness as he and his family adjusted to life in the United States; and opened up about his new set of goals. Though he hopes to continue teaching at SU, he also would like to publish a book he has written on what he described as the “intangible heritage of Aleppo.”
Sha’ar’s son, Shahim, is a senior at James M. Bennett High School, who is interested in theatre and creative writing.
“There is no way to live safely, get educated, have friends, see family or do anything human in Syria other than maybe survive,” Shahim said. “Syrians aren’t entering the European Union because they want to steal their food or jobs, they just want to live.”
Though he and his family fled his childhood home to a safer part of Aleppo, they eventually did have to leave for their own safety.
He commended the overwhelming majority of the Salisbury community for welcoming him and his family, and is currently working hard to ensure that he can attend the college of his choice. SU is just one of many places that he is in contact with as he seeks financial aid.
“History represents the totality of human experience,” Joseph Venosa said at his forum “Sea of Despiration” on Sept. 10. “Sometimes this means confronting the unpleasant.”
Venosa, a member of the history department since 2013, recently presented the first of a series of ongoing presentations by faculty within the department.
Through video evidence, audience participation and captivating dialogue, he gained the undivided attention of the crowd in the room, and introduced a new angle to the crisis.
Inspired by his work with non-governmental organizations and by his wife’s early life in Eritrea, Venosa has personal connections with refugees all over the world, due both to his work and to his focus on Middle Eastern studies.
“I’m always trying to find new ways to engage people,” he said regarding an audience activity, in which he had told the audience to write the names of loved ones on slips of paper and imagine them in the situations many Syrians face in their home country.
“If I can make it so that students understand what’s happening in a more personal way, then that’s a success,” Venosa said.
He encouraged a more involved stance on international affairs from college students, reasoning that the refugee crisis has literally become a global issue and his presentation on the situation in Syria certainly served as a step towards that involvement for many members of the audience.
A vast ocean and several countries separate the United States from Syria, yet SU students walk among people who have been directly impacted by the events there.
With that in mind, the Salisbury community can become involved in helping refugees, whether it’s through fundraising, petitioning or even working with organizations.
In many cases, individuals have taken to doing what governments won’t in the face of Syria’s crisis and despite the tragedies coming from the region, many stories also serve as a testament to human bravery and cooperation.