Three Syrian Students of University of the People Struggle to Further Their Education Under Siege

Children watch as an aid convoy of Syrian Arab Red Crescent drives through the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syria March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh MIDEAST-CRISIS/SYRIA

For seven years, the war in Syria has raged on killing more than 465,000 Syrians and displacing half the country’s population. But amid the destruction and despair, three men in besieged Eastern Ghouta are insistent on furthering their education.

With schools demolished or shut down because of the war, Majed Daas, Mohammed Nizar Arbash and Mahmoud Bwedany brace harrowing and life-threatening conditions to continue their studies at University of the People, an online American university offering undergraduate and graduate degrees.

“When the bombardment, the shelling, gets very heavy, the only thing we think about is our survival,” Bwedany, 20, told the BBC. He takes his computer sciences courses inside an underground bomb shelter. “And then when the bombardment gets better, even for a short amount of time, we go back to thinking about our jobs, our studies, what are we going to do in the future.

“I’m motivated to learn and want to keep learning. If I have the chance, I want to be part of the process of rebuilding the country again,” says Mahmoud.

Daas and Arbash, both 22, also signed up to study Computer Science at UoPeople.

“Ever since 2013, I began searching for a way to continue my studies, but it was difficult because of the siege and we frequently have no fuel, internet or electricity,” Daas told Al Jazeera.

Besides surviving, students like Arbash are saddled with the additional responsibility of making ends meet. “It was [a] hard decision to make as I couldn’t give up working, which my family and I depend on in order to survive,” Arbash said about enrolling at UoPeople.

Sadly, it was tough for Arbash and Daas to continue their studies at UoPeople. Both students had to drop out  because the attacks in the rebel-held enclave became too severe.

In spite of the surrounding chaos, Bwedany presses on with his education and tries to stay optimistic.

“I want to graduate, to have a degree. For us under siege that’s a very big opportunity. It gives students hope,” he says.