Yasmin Al Soufi in her classroom
MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky

Yasmin Al Soufi a teacher at an MCC-supported kindergarten, talks about fleeing from Syria and teaching Syrian children in Lebanon.

I was born in Idlib, Syria, close to the Turkish border.

We are a family of six daughters and three sons. My father was working in construction, and all of us were studying.

Although the financial situation was not enough, we were happy in that life and felt secure. We had access to everything — food, education, livelihoods.

We continued to study, all of us, until the war started.

My parents came to Lebanon in 2012, but I was in my third year of university, with one year more before I graduated.

I insisted on staying in Idlib. I lived with my grandparents and got my education degree. Then, I started a master’s program in educational psychology, but the situation in Idlib got worse.

In 2014, the bombing reached the street where we were living. I was at home studying with a friend and one of the walls fell down on us. My friend’s mother was injured and had to go to the hospital, although she’s now recovered.

My sister and I and other relatives fled from Idlib, joining a group of more than 200 people walking to escape. New clashes blocked our way, so we had to walk for one full day on a sandy, rocky path. Some people fainted because they didn’t have water.

There was no rest time on the journey. I got skinnier and skinnier. My situation was not good."

I got separated from my family along the way. After a warning about a bombing, I went into one underground tunnel with people near me, and my family went into another. I couldn’t find them when we came out.

At the next town, Ariha, their names were broadcast on the mosque’s loudspeaker, but we were not able to find each other until the second day there.

There was no rest time on the journey. I got skinnier and skinnier. My situation was not good.

From Ariha, we took a bus to the city of Hama, then found a taxi in Hama to take us to the Lebanese border. Normally a four-hour journey, it took 20 hours to get there. Then the border guards told my sister she was not allowed in because she was under 18 and our father was not with us. We spent eight hours at the border.

Eventually they let us in.

My family met us in a border town in Lebanon and took us to the home where they were living.

But my struggles weren’t over.

I spent months searching for a job. I would have an interview in a school. They would say they would call me, but they never did, I think because they didn’t take Syrian teachers. I was shocked by the difficulties. In Syria, educators were in great demand. Once you finished your schooling, you would find a job easily.

A friend who is Syrian told me about an opening in a kindergarten in Beirut (run by MCC partner Popular Aid for Relief and Development). She was working there, so I was optimistic the school would take Syrian teachers.

I was so excited and happy to find this job. It’s exactly what I was looking for — it’s in my field and it’s working with children.

I started in October 2015 at the beginning of the school year. You know how the beginning of the year is. It was crazy, but we did a lot of activities with the children and things improved day after day.

I have 27 children in my class — 12 boys and 15 girls. The classes start at 8 a.m., and we finish at 1 p.m. Children learn science, Arabic, English and math. We do activities like planting flowers. We talk about good and bad behaviours and what animals eat.

Every day when parents come to pick up the children, I talk to them. We have a parents meeting once a month and talk about things like the work children are doing in school and how to support their learning at home.

Several of the teachers here are Syrian. We speak with the same accent as the children, so the children are not feeling that something is strange or different; they feel like they are speaking with somebody they know.

Education is very important for any child. It will help them in all their lives. If they do want to study at the highest levels, they can. If they stop, they’ll at least know how to read and write.

My hope is to teach at the university level, and I think I will reach that one day.

Yasmin Al Soufi teaches at an MCC-supported kindergarten in Beirut, Lebanon, run by Popular Aid for Relief and Development.

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