Students from Syria have described how they put their lives on the line to continue their studies in spite of the bombs and other violence that still beset the country.
The young Christians told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need – which is providing them with scholarships – how their faith and determination were vital as they studied at the University of Aleppo which remained open even at the height of the war.
Church leaders working closely with the students paid tribute to their courage and faith.
One Sister praised the students’ “fervour” to pursue their university and college courses in Aleppo.
‘Albert’ (his proper name has been withheld for security reasons) described his struggles studying for an industrial engineering degree.
The young Christian, who is from Qamishli, northern Syria, said: “We experienced severe fighting [in Aleppo]. A number of my friends had to quit their studies because of it.
“I decided to risk my life and finish my degree.”
‘Albert’ said he was afraid of being called up for military service despite what he called his “period of immunity” as a student.
“I even went to classes during bomb alerts.”
Fellow Aleppo student Angel Samoun, an aeronautical engineering student, also from Qamishli, said: “I did not want to go to Aleppo. My family also did not want me studying here.
“But this is where I was accepted… I even went to classes during bomb alerts. The most difficult part was being separated from my family.”
Another student, Lara Lias, from Daara, a city in southern Syria, said: “I was very afraid because I was so far away from my parents’ home.
“When I came [to Aleppo], my family said good-bye to me as though I were dying.”
Referring to four Sisters of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará, who work at a hall of residence overlooking the University of Aleppo, Ms Lias added: “The Sisters support us a great deal. The most important thing is to love God.”
One of the Sisters, Reverend Mother Laudis Gloriae, said: “The inhabitants of Aleppo demonstrate an impressive faith in God and their witness helps me grow in faith every day.”
She added: “The fervour with which these young people pursue their studies – in spite of the battles we have experienced here – is palpable.”
A missile strike in 2013 close to the hall of residence killed about 400 people including a religious Sister from another order.
“Father David is just like a father to us.”
Father David Fernández, an Argentinian priest working in Aleppo, spoke to the charity about supporting 30 male students at the city’s Jesus the Worker residence hall.
He described how people were killed when a bomb landed close by, adding: “I had to recover the bodies.”
Praising Father Fernández’s support for the young people, economics student Antranik Kaspar said: “Father David is just like a father to us.
“We greatly appreciate the people who have left their families and their homelands in order to live here with us and help us.”
Thanking Aid to the Church in Need for helping the students, Father Fernández said: “We are receiving support from our congregation, but also from other organisations such as the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need, which has made funding available to us so that we can buy computers and pay tuition fees.”
In 2017, Aid to the Church in Need’s emergency aid for Syria included more than £900,000 (1 million euros) towards education.
More than 9,000 children in Syria’s primary schools have benefitted from the charity’s scholarship support as well as transport to school, purchase of school uniforms, basic books and stationery.