In 2011, Syrians gathered in streets, demanding their freedom from dictatorship. Their vision for a better life was denied by the Syrian government, leading to deaths of over 250,000 people, a displaced country and lack of education.
Today, the Books Not Bombs campaign fights to allow Syrian refugees to seek free higher education. Their mission is to welcome Syrian refugees with books, not bombs.
"Our goal is to galvanize higher education to create projects for these students, and we actually work with students to ask their universities and push their universities to join the Institute of International Education Syria Consortium,” National Coordinator of BNB Lida Dianti said.
With the help of Dianti, sisters Farrah and Marah Alarmanazi started a campus chapter at the University of Toledo three months ago. Their goal is to pass a petition that waives the college tuition for six Syrian refugee students.
"The war started while I was there,” fourth-year biology major Marah Alarmanzi said. “I lost, like, half a year of education, so it hits pretty close to home for me."
Marah shared she was lucky enough to only lose half a year of education but has friends who are a year or two years behind her due to the ongoing war in Syria. Her desire to help Syrians encouraged her to get involved in this campaign, she said.
To put this idea into action, UT’s Books Not Bombs campaign has collected 687 signatures and needs to reach 1,000 signatures to move forward with the next phase, Marah said. The group will then present a resolution to Student Government. If the resolution is passed, the administration will make the final decision.
Farrah said that most of the Syrian refugee kids she tutors are concerned about attending college due to their financial situations. These kids cannot apply for regular scholarships since they didn’t graduate from high school here, and, because they are refugees, they are unable to apply for international student scholarships.
“We see these students have the passion, but they just don't have the opportunities,” Farrah said.
With 184 participating universities and 30 actives campaigns, over 22,000 people across the country have signed a petition. The campaign’s goal is to continue with the same efforts and acquire as many opportunities for Syrian refugees as possible.
"It's critically important for universities nationwide to take part in Books Not Bombs because according to the UN, less than one percent of refugees or displaced people make it to higher education,” Dianti said. “So, without an opportunity like scholarships, refugees or displaced students won’t have a chance to get higher education or any education that can help them get a proper job.”
While students leading the campaign are responsible for deciding how many Syrian refugees have access to these scholarships, their main goal is to receive as many high-quality scholarships as possible, Dianti said.
She added the reason why the BNB campaign is so important in Toledo is due to the significant Syrian refugee population in the area. The campaign can create opportunities for those in need.
"Everyone deserves education no matter their religion, their income, or politics or anything," Farrah said.
She added this is solely a nonpolitical, humanitarian campaign that raises awareness for Syrian refugees lacking access to education.
“If we don’t help these students, they won’t be able to receive any education,” Marah said
She believes the least the universities can do is help with this process and provide Syrian refugees with a future in the U.S. Their goal is to get the scholarships established by the beginning of the next school year.
While the student-led campaign has successfully raised $1,605,050 in scholarships, its goal is to expand to as many schools as possible due to the dire need of education for Syrian refugees, Dianti said.
To help them do so, Marah said people can help by signing the petition and discussing the importance of this campaign within their communities.
“So many young Syrian students that are college-age don’t actually get the chance to [receive an] education,” Dianti said. “We are working to change that.”
While other schools have requirements for more scholarships, UT only requires scholarships for six students. Marah said she read an article that said 80 percent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon don't go to school, meaning the next generation of Syrian refugees are a lost generation.
"Education is a human right; it should be accessible for everyone regardless of their nationality or background," Dianti said.