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Story | Community
9 September 2021

From “refugee” to “unbeatable girl” – how education brings the hope of a better life

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Baylasan Harboucheh became a top-performing student across all the schools in her region.

As the world marks International Day to Protect Education from Attack – established by the United Nations following a call to action by Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation – a Syrian girl’s journey demonstrates how education is stronger than war

When Baylasan Harboucheh headed to her school in the Damascus countryside one morning, she did not realize that it would be the last time she would see her school, her teachers, and her classmates – and that the school she loved would be destroyed.

We children do not carry weapons; we do not harm anyone. Who really wants to prevent us from studying while we are learning to build a better world?

Baylasan Harboucheh

Baylasan Harboucheh

Until that moment, the Syrian girl who was nine years old at that time, thought that school was a safe place, out of the reach of bombs or missiles. She reassured her mother, saying: “We children do not carry weapons, we do not harm anyone. Who really wants to prevent us from studying while we are learning to build a better world?”

I hid with my classmates under the seats; we were screaming, crying, and asking for help

Baylasan Harboucheh

What happened that day brought reality home to Baylasan, as she heard an explosion close to the school, and watched the walls shake and the windows shatter. "I hid with my classmates under the seats; we were screaming, crying, and asking for help,” she remembers. “I was unable to speak on that day, and since then I have not been able to get over the idea that I might have died at any moment.”

Because of the war, Baylasan`s eyes were hiding sadness and fear of the unknown. However, in a moment of despair, when the family decided to move to Lebanon and escape from war, those eyes started to sparkle with hope at the prospect of a country of refuge, a house that was safe – and a seat at school.

"When we arrived in Lebanon, we had to live in a small, rented room, and I had to work in a clothing store,” she explains. “It was very difficult to adapt, but my mother always told us ‘We should compromise and face challenges.”

Baylasan Harboucheh says that, in Lebanon, they had to live in a small, rented room, and she had to work in a clothing store

For Baylasan, the biggest challenge was completing her studies. Education was her only hope, just as it brings hope to children and young people around the world, which is why International Day to Protect Education from Attack - established by a United Nations resolution following a call to action by Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation – aims to raise awareness of the plight of children affected by armed conflict, who are most in need of educational support.

The opportunity for Baylasan to study in a public school in the Lebanese village where she settled did not come easy, as a different school outside the village was assigned to students coming from Syria. However, Baylasan’s mother was able to convince the school to accept her daughter after an academic test in which she produced exceptional results.

Baylasan joined the school as its only Syrian student, but her intelligence and abilities ultimately led to her being known not as “the Syrian student”, but "the unbeatable student". However, she remembers how, during the first days in her new school, she felt held back by her “weakness” in the English language.

"When I had to read English in the classroom, I made mistakes, and my colleagues used to make fun of me. And this is how I decided to excel," Baylasan says.

Within a few months, Baylasan began to achieve high academic results, and within a year she was the top-performing student not only in her school, but across all the schools in her region, and had even started to give English lessons to other students. In the official exams to obtain a baccalaureate degree, she won first place in physics and mathematics.

“Due to my grades in scientific subjects, I was qualified to study the major that I love - petroleum engineering - and my grades also qualified me to get scholarships to study abroad,” she says. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Baylasan was unable to receive a scholarship, so chose another major, interior design.

"I found it the best alternative major, and over the course of the first years studying it I insisted on finding passion in everything I study, so that I have the motivation to excel,” she says.

When I left Syria, I had two options: either to surrender, or to face challenges and prove that education is stronger than wars, and I chose to challenge

Baylasan Harboucheh

During the summer, Baylasan works in the morning at an interior designer office, and in a small printing establishment during the afternoon. “Although I yearn to devote myself fully to education, study, read books, and join training courses, I need to work, but I take the possibility of developing my skills from my work as a motivation to continue,” she says.

While petroleum engineering is still her dream, Baylasan, who is now 19 years, says she will not be satisfied with becoming anything other than "the most important interior designer in the world". And she remembers how her father, who recently passed away in Syria, told her that education is the greatest hope for all the children of wars around the world to live a better life.

My father used to tell me that I will reach the top. I am determined to be the best at what I do, because I know that he is watching me and feels proud of me, even from afar.

Baylasan Harboucheh

A school destroyed in Syria. Image source: anasalhajj, via Shutterstock

"When I left Syria, I had two options: either to surrender, or to face challenges and prove that education is stronger than wars, and I chose to challenge." She adds.

"My father used to tell me that I will reach the top. I am determined to be the best at what I do, because I know that he is watching me and feels proud of me, even from afar.”

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