I wake up in my room and I close my eyes, trying to go back to sleep as the sun shines through my windows. In a state neither quite asleep nor awake, I hear the sound of a plane. Instantly, I am awake. All I can hear is the sound of the plane, and it’s coming closer. Nothing will happen, I reassure myself. This sound brings me back to Jordan and Syria, and all the individuals I met this summer who fled the brutal civil war, now going into its sixth year. I sit up in my bed and immediately turn toward the window. All I can focus on is the sound of the engine nearing my house. Nothing will happen, I say. There is nothing you can do, the refugees would say. I sit helpless in my bed and wait, my eyes on the sky. I am transported, if only for a second, back to Jordan, to the stories that I was told while living there, many revolving around what the sound of a plane evokes for those who fled rebel-held areas in Syria, where bombs would be dropped on civilian areas. The sound of a plane consumes you, the refugees would say; you look to the sky and follow the plane with your eyes, and wait to see if you are spared this time.  It is an anthem of death, our anthem, they would say. At this moment, I am thinking of Amira, a Syrian girl whom I tutor over Skype. Amira, upon hearing the sound of a plane fly by (even though she was granted asylum in Canada) hysterically bursts into tears and shakes uncontrollably as she is reminded of the horror she witnessed. But, as expected, as I sit in my small town 1,000 miles away, the low-flying plane is already gone.

Once you cross a border, everything changes.  This is what the refugees I met this summer in Jordan would say to me. Here, lives are valued, a plane isn’t dropping bombs and I am already asleep. I am here. The sound of a plane means nothing to people here anyway, I remind myself.

While studying for midterms this past week, did you have a safe place to study? Access to Internet? A teacher to email to ask pre-exam questions? Did you fear an end to your education? Were you confident that school was going to begin again on Wednesday? I ask these questions only because it is important to realize that the very environment we find ourselves in, one that allows safety and security and is conducive to our ability to study, is one we take for granted. The normalcy of what we experience is something unavailable to many individuals around the world. As we posit ourselves as “Leaders and the Best,” and recognize our unique position to assist, stand with and support disadvantaged people throughout the world, we must also take a look at the importance of education and what it can do. While we are empowered by virtue of our education, let us pass on the opportunity of a world-renowned education to also empower others. This is why I am calling on Central Student Government to support fully funded scholarships for Syrian refugees, as proposed in a resolution this Tuesday by the Books Not Bombs campaign.

The impact of the Syrian Civil War on education has been disastrous. After five continuous years of civil war, the conflict in Syria has reversed more than a decade of progress in children’s education. Today, 2.2 million of Syria’s 4.8 million school-age children are not in school as a result of the conflict.

Since the start of the war over 4,000 schools throughout Syria have been devastated, damaged or converted into shelters for those displaced. If they are able to attend school, many students are stopped from accessing education. They are physically attacked for trying to go to school, under threat of having their school bombed, and commonly find themselves in the crossfire of snipers. Under the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Child, the right to a quality education is guaranteed to all children. Under the continuing civil war, children and students our age are being denied a basic human right.

As students who have made a promise to ourselves and to the University of Michigan to use our education to contribute to a more just and equitable society, will we stay silent in the face of the worst humanitarian crisis the world has ever seen? The answer has never been clearer. If we truly believe in the power of an education to transform the lives of individuals, and if we truly believe education to be the basis of the betterment of society, we must stand by our commitment to education for all. We must remember that we are here by luck. By chance, we found ourselves not in the midst of a civil war; by chance we can achieve our dreams. We are the lucky ones; we get to continue our lives as normal simply because we are here. If we are “Leaders and the Best,” let us as students collectively come together to ask our University to provide educational opportunities to individuals who have been displaced, and whose education has been interrupted by a conflict they found themselves embedded within by no fault of their own. It is time, and it is long overdue, to place Michigan among the ranks of the many other universities that have been offering fully funded scholarships to Syrian refugees.

Many in the world have risked being dangerously complacent about the Syrian humanitarian crisis. Those who have lost the opportunity of education risk becoming a lost generation in our lifetime. Let us be among those who stand up and make our voices heard in this time of deafening silence. Education knows no borders and no ethnicity; it is a human right and one we must support by offering scholarships to Syrian refugees.  

You can support the Books Not Bombs campaign to support scholarships for Syrian Refugees as an individual here, and as a student group here.

Questions about the BNB campaign? Email: books-not-bombs@umich.edu

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