It was the last day of May. Little boys and girls beamed with mischievous smiles as they ran about the school courtyard. Their slightly older and more aloof teenage counterparts huddled in small packs – boys exchanging glances with girls, and girls laughing amongst each other and snapping selfies. Teachers walked around passing out snacks and shouting half-hearted commands in a vain effort to keep unruly kids in check. Everyone was basking in the festivities. In most ways, the scene is normal. But the setting was anything but mundane. The event took place at the Hogir School in Kobani where educators, students, parents, and a handful of U.S. troops gathered to mark the completion of Spirit of America’s first humanitarian project in northern Syria. Going on its fifth year, the conflict in Syria has wreaked havoc and unmatched misery on the ancient land and its people. What initially started as a protest movement against the ruthless regime of Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, has spawned into a brutal multifaceted civil war encompassing numerous military forces, militias, and terrorist organizations. According to some estimates, the war has claimed more than 400,000 lives. Over four million Syrians have fled their country, becoming refugees the world over and an estimated 6.5 million are displaced within their homeland. Moreover, nearly an entire generation of Syrian children is now growing up without a quality education, a fact that will have severe consequences for generations to come. Few other cities in Syria have witnessed as much devastation as Kobani. Between September and January 2015, Kobani, which sits on the Syrian-Turkish border, was under an all-out assault by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. By the time the protracted four and a half month siege was over, 70 percent of the city was destroyed in the vicious fighting. But the local resistance forces, aided by robust U.S. air campaign, emerged victorious out of the rubble. The triumph, which came at an astonishing cost to the local civilian population, marked the first time a city stood up to and defeated the Jihadists, earning Kobani worldwide recognition and turning it into a symbol of resistance. Since then, the residents of Kobani have set about rebuilding their city and trying to realize a sense of normalcy amongst the carnage. Many neighborhoods continue to be uninhabitable due to the threat of unexploded ordinances and booby-traps left behind by the Islamic State. Despite the hazardous conditions, debris is being removed, homes repaired, clinics and schools opened. Kobani is slowly inching back to life. In mid-April 2016, Spirit of America Middle East manager, Zack Bazzi, traveled to northern Syria with a U.S. Army Civil Affairs Planner to evaluate the humanitarian situation in the region. In Kobani, the two met with dozens of officials and community leaders and visited several sites in the city, to include damaged critical infrastructure, a refugee camp, and local schools and hospitals. At Hogir School, SoA and the Civil Affairs Planner assessed the enormous challenges faced by teachers and administrators in providing a quality education to the 1,500 boys and girls who attend the crowded school in two shifts. A section of the school still could not be used due to heavy battle damage. Two to three students shared a rickety desk. Teachers lacked the teaching aids necessary for a proper lesson. Many kids went without basic school supplies. In short, Hogir School urgently needed help. Working in close cooperation with Army Civil Affairs counterparts, SoA rapidly put together a robust supply package to meet this critical need. Within weeks, Spirit of America purchased and donated 100 desks, school supplies for low-income children, teaching aids, English library books, computer and printer, and ceiling fans to temper the classrooms in the late spring heat. By providing essential educational resources, we not only met a basic humanitarian need (education for children is fundamental right even during conflict), we helped roll back the conditions that diminish social stability and collective security. An educated populace is the most effective insurance against extremism and volatility. The project was also an opportunity to showcase American goodwill towards a beleaguered and war-weary population. This fact was not lost on Hogir School principal, Mr. Seid Hebesh. Following the project ceremony, Hebesh stated: “I would like to thank Spirit of America for their generosity and willingness to help the people of Kobani during these difficult times. Your humanitarian support for our Hogir School will improve the learning environment for our teachers and students and help provide a quality education to our children. It is critical for our community that, even during this terrible war, our children not be denied their fundamental right to a proper education. We live in war now, but with a good schooling, the sons and daughters of Kobani will grow up to lead us into peace. We are grateful for the U.S. military and Spirit of America for helping us in times of great need.” Because of the compassion of our supporters, SoA provided urgently needed relief in one of the most heavily damaged cities in Syria and supported the crucial work of deployed American troops in the region. With your continued backing, we intend to build on this important effort. Zack Bazzi Project Manager – Middle East
Zack served in the US Army and Army National Guard from 1997 to 2008, completing four overseas deployments to Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan.