Friday, February 29, 2008

Firas Majeed

When Saddam was in power, my family were poor because of the sanctions and because our government didn't do that much to make it better for the people. My family consists of 9 people. It was only my father who was working while my mother took care of us. When I was in eights grade, I decided to quit so that I can work and help my father as I was the older man among my siblings. Of course, I regret it now but at the time, I just had to do it.

Because I couldn't finish my school, I was enlisted to compulsory serve in the army for four years. It was a devastating experience. I complete it but turned into different person. I became stronger but depressed about everything around me. I was lucky there wasn't any war then. I decided that I must work very hard now. Moving from one small job that didn't pay enough to another dirty and dangerous job that paid better but still not enough, I owned a small grocery for my own. That way I was able to help my family better.

After the war on Iraq "ended" in 2003, I thought of resuming my studies that I couldn't finish during Saddam Hussein regime. But 2003, my father had cancer and I had to spend about 2 years and a half with him during his treatment period until he a little bit became better. I also had to spend all the $ that I worked very hard to earn and save for my studies. So it is like I woke up one day with no money, no education, no safety, and above all, no home. I had to leave under extremely hard circumstances. I don't even know how to explain it. All I know is that to stay alive was the most important thing to think of.

At the end of 2005, the security situation in Iraq had worsened very badly. I decided to leave Iraq and live outside my home country. I tried to continue my school education again in Syria; a dream followed me for a long time. It was hard to do so since I didn't have school credentials, a major problem for a lot of Iraqi students who left Iraq after the invasion. Getting my credentials will cost me a lot of money which I can't afford.

About the computer learning seminars; I know for a fact that not many Iraqis have computers here in Syria. The majority of Iraqis can't afford to buy them. However, Iraqi are eager to learn about computers and how to benefit from it especially considering the fact that internet has become an essential and cheap way of communications between families, relatives and friends out and inside Iraq! Plus internet has become the only window to the outside world that Iraqis could use. The availability of internet cafes is good in some areas but the service is monitored by an admin in the café, and a lot of websites are blocked including the voice chat and web cam in most of the cafes in Damascus. The reasons for this are unknown to me. I rely on one internet café that we befriend with the owner and sometimes we pay him extra $ to let us use the webcams so that we see our families and they can see us. Sigh… I miss my family very much.

Education in Syria is public for both Syrians the Iraqis yet this applies only to the elementary and the high schools. Colleges for Iraqis are not free. We would have to pay a lot of money. Most Iraqi families can't afford to get their children to private colleges in Syria. This is a quiet a problematic situation for the Iraqi youth who left Iraq suddenly during their college and university studies. They had no other options but to quit schools and to face the unknown. Most of them were forced to leave Iraq while they were in their last year or third year in college, leave Iraq without their education certificates. In addition to all that and even if you had the money and credentials, you still have to spend more money for tutors as education system is not as good as the one in Iraq.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


My name is Laith Faris. I am 14 years old boy and in 7th grade. I live with my family in Syria. We came here first in 2006. Four months after we arrived, we started to hear the security situation is getting better in Iraq. We decided to go back. Upon our return, crimes started to escalate. When my uncle was killed for no reason and my father was imprisoned for five months nobody knew why and people killed in front of hour house, we knew we weren't going to stay longer. Two days after my father was released, we left again.

Today, I live with my mother, father and little brother in Syria. I and my brother go to school here.

I like soccer and I love to learn swimming. I unfortunately, can't play soccer as I have heart problems; something I didn't know before we had to have a medical check when we entered Syria and it is what the doctor told me. I always like to make new friends too.

What I hope for? I hope for the situation to get better so that we go back to our home and friends.


My name is Zahra Rifaat and I am 12 years old girl. I am in 6th grade. After I and my family were forced to leave my beloved country, we came to live in Syria now. We left because of the worsened security situation in Iraq.

Every time I remembered that group of armed men who came into my school with big frightening guns, I get scared. When one day an explosion happened very close to our house in south of Baghdad took place, we decided it wasn't worth it to stay, and that we should leave. It was 8 months ago. I remember that day very well. I was crying and feeling very sad.

Right now, I am going to school here. And I have new friends but I still can't wait to go back to my home country, to my friends.

What I like? I like making new friends; I love reading and playing soccer. I wish one day I learn how to use a computer and speak English.

Ahmed Makkiyah

Ahmed is providing translation for webchats.

After the Iraqi liberation the in 2003, I recall that me and my father we were very optimistic and excited about the future of Iraq from the early days of war believing that Saddam Hussein wasn't a good leader for Iraq.

My views and predictions were contrary to most of my friends views and opinions about this war, I've reached a point to argue about why I believe it's a liberation not an occupation?!.

From 2003 to 2006 a three successful years of college passed with a dream to have a bachelor degree in English literature major aiming to get MA degree after that.

on 14th of November 2006 Unfortunately I lost my dad due to a barbaric assassination killing him at once riddled in the neck with four bullets, the terrorists assassinated him while he was driving to his work ,this tragic incident coincided with my second day of my fourth year in college which is the last , WHAT A SHOCK !!

Until today I see dreams that I have BA degree and all my family are celebrating and when I woke up I found my self colliding with the melancholic reality, I didn't only lost my beloved father I lost every thing including my self mental image, me and my family fled our home next day leaving all the nice memory behind us.

I want to conclude with this statement : ''We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.'' By Martin Luther King

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Mirna Sadiq, 16

Mirna is in the 8th grade.

"I was a student in Iraq yet due to the bad security situation, now I live in Syria. I was able to register as a student in the Syrian schools. I live with my mother and brother who is younger than me. My uncles sometimes support us with some finance."

"I like sports especially swimming. I like to listen to rap music. I love to learn English. I like landscapes and traveling. I like to make new friends."

"I don't want to go back to Iraq due to the sectarian and ethnic divisions. My hope is for the situation to get better and for the people to realize that this is only harming the civilian people."

Barazan Sadiq, 15

Barazan is the 7th grade.

"I live with my mother and sister. My father died when I was three years old. I live in Syria for 8 months now. I feel uncomfortable living here. I have no friends or relatives here but that becomes not as important when I think when we will be doing if our savings were done."

"I usually listen to classic music especially when I am frustrated and desperate."

"I wish to have many friends. I like communicating with people through email. I love soccer games."

"I know a little bit of English and I am keen to learn more because I simply live this language."

"Thinking of the time when I almost got kidnapped, and the problems my mother had to bare because of the fact that we are Christians, makes me unwilling to go back to Iraq. Our neighbors trying to force us to convert to Islam is another reason made me resent the Arab world."

Questions from Kelly Martin, Collinsville IL

Kelly Martin from Collinsville high school sent these questions via email for Firas, Ahmed and Alaa (whose friends in Damascus call him David).

Kelly: Do many people have their own computers, or are many internet cafes?
Firas: From my perspective not too many Iraqis have PCs here in Syria, the majority of Iraqis can't afford to buy PCs, and however, Iraqi people are eager to learn about PCs and how to benefit from it especially from the internet!
The internet for the Iraqis become their only window to the outside world, they consider this service as the only way to communicate with their friends, relatives, beloved, parents….etc, who live in Iraq and other countries, the availability of internet cafes are good in some areas but the service are monitored by an admin in the café, and a lot of facilities are blocked including the voice chat and web cam in most of the cafes in Damascus, the reasons for this are unknown to me.

Kelly: What do you spend your days doing?
Ahmed: I spent most of my days reading E-books and self education myself, communicating with my friends via internet is daily activity.

Kelly: I'm sorry to hear that your Iraq credentials are holding you back from continuing your studies. Do you believe that you will be able to receive them eventually and resume your formal education?
David: In regard to my school papers, I can't go to the area I used to live in because I and my family are threatened to be killed if we go back. And I am very sad about this. Years are passing away. My peers are in their last year in high school and I am still in my tenth grade. I can't finish my studies because of those threats. I can't wait to pursue my study for it is my ambition.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Email your questions or set up a web conference

Students and teachers — if your class cannot participate in a web conference with Iraqi students living in Syria, you can still get in touch with them by email or by instant message. To send your questions by email or to schedule a web conference, click here or a send a message

To send questions by IM, use one of the following screen names:

Yahoo messenger: ferastot
Gmail chat: ferastot
Skype: firas.mageed

Be sure to indicate your name, the school you attend in the US, and which student(s) your questions are for. If you are emailing to set up a conference, please include specific dates and times.

I will do my best to get your questions answered the same day they are posted, but keep in mind there is a seven hour time difference between Damascus and New York. (When it is noon in New York, it's 7 PM in Damascus.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

City College of New York

Students in Damascus and students in Brooklyn chatted for a few minutes today. Here's some of what they said.

BROOKLYN: Hi. My name is Andrea. My classmates are standing beside me.
The professor has stepped out. We will wait till she comes back
DAMASCUS: nice to meet you Anderea
BKLYN: too bad you can't see us
DMSCS: next time we will i hope
BKLYN: Here are our names... Mayra, Edie, Anita, Nikki, Saidah, Carlette, Ekraam, Shaquan, Juanita, Domingo, Sherriann, Naomi, Clara, and the professor is back.
What are your names?
DMSCS: from right to left Ahmed the translator, Firas the coordinator, Nawar an iraq student
this is me waving Ahmed
BKLYN: we're waving back
DMSCS: nive to meet you all
BKLYN: Nawar, how is your father
DMSCS: Hi my name is Firas Majeed the coordinator of the webcast.
i'm pleased to annonce our first webcast session, i hope both parties will enjoy and benifit from this experience.
this is Firas
beside him is Nawar
ANd this is Alaa
BKLYN: Hi Alaa
Nawar said: he is good
BKLYN: Have you been able to go back to school Alaa?
I'm glad Nawar
Thanks to you he siad
Alaa said : NO , i don't have my high school credentials
BKLYN: What was your education like in Iraq?
DMSCS: he said : i'm willing to risk and go back to iraq to get them
BKLYN: So that means that the education in Iraq was good
DMSCS: i was very good as a student
BKLYN: Do you think the school and the teachers was good
DMSCS: he said : in waht era you mean ?
what *
BKLYN: During the time you were in school, what was the school like?
Is Marwan there?
DMSCS: in both times the education was good , but the security situation is the only challenge we face as students ( Alaa said
wait please we will call him
Marwan has come
this is Marwan
i hope you saw him
BKLYN: Is it safe to go back to school in Iraq? What are the challenges?
Hi Marwan
DMSCS: hi he said
BKLYN: the girls think your cute
DMSCS: he said thanks
BKLYN: great smile
can you guys get to the US
DMSCS: he said : i'm very please talking with you
BKLYN: Do you think a democracy is desirable in Iraq
How are you Samer
if you're there
DMSCS: Democracy is just a head line we see and hear but in fact there is no such thing called democracy in Iraq " he said
BKLYN: Great answer!
that is your reality
DMSCS: Samir will come here in a minute please wait
yes this is our reality
he said
BKLYN: We only see headlines also. Can you tell us what is really going on in Iraq now?
DMSCS: about coming to the states no it's out of question from a lot of iraqis
he said
BKLYN: sorry to hear that
why is it out of the question
DMSCS: this is Smair
BKLYN: Hi Samir
DMSCS: sorry Samir
BKLYN: We're waving back
BKLYN: Are you guys tired?
what does ^^ mean?
DMSCS: no , on the contrary they guys are very excited to talk with you
BKLYN: So are we!
DMSCS: ^^ means a happy face
BKLYN: in that case ^^
DMSCS: Marwan want to ask you a question
BKLYN: Samer we believe you will become a doctor!
you can ask us questions also
What do you think about Americans
DMSCS: Samir said thanks for your hopes about me , but it's easier said than done .
BKLYN: Over here to
You just have to want it
DMSCS: Marwan said " as American , i think they are peacefull people , and they are very educaated and want to live peacefully
BKLYN: that's true for everybody except....BUSH
What was your question Marwan
DMSCS: Marwan question is " do you think after what happened to the iraqi people , and all the "
misery we face is easy to iraqi individual to live in US the country who invade us ?"
is it *
BKLYN: Again, it's Bush, not us. Most American are against the war.
But soon new elections are coming up and change is coming.
DMSCS: Marwan said " what is the image of the iraqis in the eyes of the American people "?
BKLYN: 98% of the students in this class are not American born
so it's a multi cultural school ?
BKLYN: We see that you are suffering, but headlines tell us that we are helping the Iraqis.
All Public school in New York City are multi-culturals
you would fit right in
DMSCS: this is all media talk " Marwan said
BKLYN: In your opinion, what is the purpose of Americans invading Iraq?
DMSCS: Marwan asking " what is your opinion about the iraqs (honestly )
BKLYN: We think you are people just like us who want peace and stability.
DMSCS: the cafe admin came and he said that we have to close the webcast session
we have only five minutes left
BKLYN: Were you in favor of Sadam Hussein before the war?
DMSCS: firas said : this is a pleasure to him " and all the guys here are pleased to do that again
of course you were in favour Marwan said
we were *
this is Ali on the cam now
BKLYN: that's a shocker. we heard so many horrible things
Hi Ali
We know you have to go now, so thank you for your time, and your honesty. Good Bye from BKLYN, NY
DMSCS: we hope next time you guys over there can open your webcams and dedicate more time to discuss alot of things
Salam ^___^
BKLYN: Absolutely, we will be working on that
We're waving good bye also
DMSCS: OK see you we all said that
ok bye

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ali Baqir Muhsin, 17

I'm an Iraqi student in the 10th grade, I didn't continue my studies in Baghdad due to the cruel circumstances Iraq faced after the invasion in 2003. Also I've faced threats by the oppressive militias in Baghdad which have bad agendas to our country and don't want to see peace and prosperity in the future of Iraq.

Now I live with my family in Damascus entering our third year in Syria.

However, I started to pursue my dreams and continue my studies as a high school student in Syria this is all to achieve my goals, although, there are a lot of challenges I'm facing here in terms of the education system and regulations.

There are a lot of challenges than what we used to face in Iraq, But I'm determined to not let any thing come in my way to accomplish my goals.

My hobbies are playing football (soccer), listening to music and songs, these made me forget all my worries and pains, thus, those hobbies became a part of my daily routine.

Noora Baqir Muhsin, 19

I'm an Iraqi student in my last year in high school (12th grade). Due to the fragile security situation in Baghdad and in Iraq as a whole and the controlling of the different militias in Iraq, me and my family who consist of me and my parents and my brother left Iraq heading to Syria as our only save heaven to live in.

My ambition was to enter college and to continue my study, but this almost became a dream as a lot of Iraqis who can't afford to continue their education outside Iraq, the main reason which made my study in Syria impossible because I can't bring my educational certificates and credentials from Baghdad, returning back to Iraq is out of question nowadays.

My hobbies are: reading books, sports, and interior design and decoration.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Nawar Maan, 17

Nawar was born in the Al-Dora neighborhood of Baghdad. He is the oldest in his family and has a younger brother.

Nawar's father was a merchant in Baghdad. He owned a small market. Nawar’s life was normal during Saddam Hussein’s regime. He successfully finished his 10th grade in Baghdad but was forced to quit after the tenth grade because of the war. His hobbies are very quite simple which is watch soccer games on TV and playing soccer in high school with his colleagues.

He and his father were kidnapped last year by a gang in Baghdad and the family was forced to pay a large ransom. After that, the family left for Syria.

Nawar now supports his family working illegally at a pizza shop in Damascus. The wages are low, and Iraqis have no rights if they are abused by employers.

“I want to be just like any average teenager in the world I want to complete my studies and having a better future that's it,” he says.

Samer Refaat, 18

Samer is from Al-Dora neighborhood in Baghdad and is the oldest in his family. He has two brothers and one sister.

“My dream was to grow up with my family, study and get the high school. I want to get the bachelor degree in medicine. My family always wants me to get a degree in medicine major to become a doctor in the future.

“My family is like any family want to see a bright future to their sons. But sadly the war happened and all my dreams and hopes have been destroyed. The war began in 2003. I was in 8th grade when I was forced to left my studies quitting my high school.

“In 2007 I left my home and go to Syria. I left the school and begun to work in Syria.”

Alaa Ali Hassan, 16

I was born in Tuzz Khormato in Salah al-Deen province in northern Iraq.

I'm supposed to be now in my 9th grade but the situation in Iraq made me to quit my study altogether.

My wish is to complete my studies. I live in Damascus in the Jaramana neighborhood (a place where many Iraqi refugees live) with my parents. My father was a merchant in Iraq.

My hobbies are listening to music, learning new languages, and I can speak five languages — Chaldean, Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic and a little English. Nowadays I'm trying to enhance my English language.

My major problem here that I can't stand the reality that I'm not studying here in Syria.

I came to Syria with my family in February 2007, leaving my home land country behind us.

Marwan Kareem Muhsin, 18

Marwan, from Baghdad, was in his final year of high school before he had to leave Iraq for Syria. His father is a famous actor in Iraq, which puts his family at risk.

“I know I'm not the only one which is suffering, and there is a fact that there millions in the world who faced what the mind can't believe,” he says. “I'm now with my parents and brother and sisters in Syria like a lot Iraqi families who left their home country facing the unknown.”

“I started to adapt with this new reality being the best solution in my case, starting with continuing my studies in Syrian high schools ,and having a target to get the high school certificate aiming to get the bachelor degree until all my dreams become a reality.”

“The main barrier to my studies here is the education system itself in Syria. The Syrian education system is very different than the Iraqi system, however I decided to overcome those obstacles and achieve my ultimate goals.”

“My favorite sport is body building and my interests are listening to music.”

“I also like to draw a lot because it made me feel better and forget all the anxieties being a part of my everyday life which I'm facing.”

“I want to live my life day by day and not letting the past affect my progress in the future this is my philosophy in life.”

Videoconferencing between Iraqi and American students

Beginning this week, I am helping to link students in the US with students in Iraq by webcam.

The Iraqi students are:

Alaa Ali Hassan, 16
Nawar Maan, 17
Ali Baqir, 17
Marwan Kareem Muhsin, 18
Samer Refaat, 18
Noora Baqir Muhsin, 19

To read more about them, click on their names.

If you would like to help support this project, please click the following link. Costs are about $75 for each session with US students. Donations cover

-transportation for the students ($20)
-time in an internet cafe ($5)
-Ahmed Makkiyah, translator ($25/session)
-myself, for coordination ($20)

The laptop and webcam for this project were generously donated by Civitas, a St. Louis-based NGO that is also helping set up videoconferencing with schools in the St. Louis area.

From L to R: Nawar, Samer and Alaa

Amount raised as of 2/21/08: $60

Thursday, February 14, 2008