From: Damascus, Syria
My roots are from Palestine, but I was born in Syria. While I’ve never seen my homeland, I’ve heard stories from my grandparents and I can imagine it. I was born and raised in Damascus, and I studied English Literature at Damascus University.
Damascus before the war was amazing. You could buy whatever you wanted. Things were not expensive.
During the war, we faced many difficulties: fighting, shouting, bombing. Our area is not political. It’s full of gardens, schools, and civilian life. But they didn’t care and they would fly their planes over us.
(Audio excerpt from Abeer’s interview)
Now, in Syria, because of the war, you can find many families with only women.
Where are the men? Many are in prison. It’s so common. Policemen come, without knocking, open the door and take them away in a car and the story is over. It happens a lot. I saw it all the time with my neighbors– I would see the police coming and taking them. Only because he is a man, not because he did anything, just because he’s a man.
We couldn’t continue our lives like that.
My husband went to Germany by boat and by foot and without a real passport.
After a year, I chose to follow him. I couldn’t live in Syria without a husband, without a man, beside me.
Nearly four months ago, my children and I crossed the border to Turkey and then went by sea to Greece. The boat trip from Turkey to Greece was so dangerous. When we were in the middle of the ocean, the engine of the boat stopped suddenly. And then it started to rain.
I sat there on the boat, holding my nine-year old son, with my daughter beside me. The children were shouting and crying and I was saying only: God please help us, God please help us.
And then He did. A group of Greek people on a big ship came and saved us and took us to an island. God doesn’t forget anyone here in the world, He helps everyone, but at the right time.
I have been in Athens now for three months. Here at this abandoned school in Exarchia, where I’m living with other people from Syria and Afghanistan, I noticed that during the day children are playing soccer and basketball. Women sit around talking during the day. We would just sit, listen to the same news, and we were miserable.
I thought to myself: you must do something. Be active. You can’t stand or sit in the corner and just sit and listen like a rabbit. No, because you are human you can do something good.
I had an idea: I can teach English.
In Syria I taught primary and secondary school. I know the course. I asked myself why can’t I do this? I must do something.In my mind I had a lot of information and ideas. But there was also sadness. There was a lot of noise around me: nothing was clear. The borders were closed, the future wasn’t clear. All I knew was, I had a notebook and my mind and I’m still standing.
The idea began small.
Here in the school, there’s no free space. We have only the playground outside. So without telling anyone about my idea, I brought five or six chairs, one desk, and a small whiteboard that I found in the basement, outside to the playground.
It was like a film: I was standing there in the cold with a notebook and no students. After two minutes, five minutes, ten minutes they started to arrive. It was like a dream. After a week, I had 10, 15 students.
When the students came to me, I became a teacher again.
But it was difficult teaching outside. It’s difficult for the students to take in the information in an open place. I tried to move the school to my room upstairs and I faced more difficulties. There were two families living in my classroom. People were coming in and out all the time.
I met a lot of Greek people here and when they saw what I was doing they helped me bring a lot of materials: pens, pencils, notebooks. A big whiteboard.
I felt some power pushing me– go Abeer. Go straight. Don’t stop here; you must do anything for your people.
I spoke to Castro, the man who runs the squat here, and he opened a room that had desks and chairs. A group of young boys came and cleaned up the room. Now, I have a real classroom with real desks a real board. Everything is clear now.
Teaching here is amazing. I love standing here in the middle of the class. I used to teach. It’s my job, it’s my work. I can’t sit in the corner without doing anything. I am so happy that I can do something for my people.
Every day I wake up at 7 or 8 am, and teach until 12. I spend six hours in the same place. I teach three classes: 0 level, 1 level, and one class just for the small children.
I love the children’s class. I can’t explain my feelings for the children, I love it. They are like my students in Syria, I know the information that they have learned and I can continue their English studies where they left off. They can understand me and we can communicate by body language, by my eyes. And I think they respect me.
The first time a volunteer came to my class, he had a conversation with my students. I sat back to listen. When I saw that my students were able to answer his questions and to have the conversations alone, I started crying. I was so happy. I can change my students. I can teach them in a simple way and they can use their English.
It’s definitely more difficult than my work in Syria; I am teaching more hours. But it’s also more beautiful, more meaningful.
I’ve realized that without playing, learning will be difficult. I have a lot of songs and activities, especially for the children.
Without playing, there can be no learning in these circumstances.
I feel like another Abeer when I play and sing and dance with my students. Sometimes we make shows and theater. Five little monkeys jumping on the bed: you are the doctor, you are the mom, now we have a show. The important question is how you can teach without getting angry, without using a stick.
We are in the modern age, we are in Europe. I don’t use a stick. I teach without using a loud voice. Always with a smile, always dancing, using activities. I took my students to the park and to the Acropolis museum. When we finished the trip, my students wrote small paragraphs: what did you do yesterday, using the simple past tense. I hope to continue my method of teaching in the future.
A lot of volunteers come to the school. Castro helps me, and a lot of friends. I don’t have money for materials, but my friends help. Yesterday, we changed the color of the walls– Richard from Ireland went to the market and brought the materials and helped me.
I respect all of the volunteers here. I feel their power inside me. Positive energy moves from one person to another.This power makes my students use English during the day with the volunteers. Using English is so important in the street and in the market.
Something has changed for me–I feel like I’ve changed into to another Abeer. Old Abeer was an English teacher. New Abeer is also an English teacher. The old one was just a teacher by profession, but the new one doesn’t work for money. I like the new Abeer. She can give. New Abeer has a lot of friends and a lot of power and energy inside to push everyone here. She has no sadness.
Abeer can reach her goals, She must reach to Germany. To be with her family.
And a woman who crosses two or three countries without a man, it’s so easy to continue her life without a man. She has faced a lot of difficulties by herself. How did she make it across the ocean on the boat? I went on the boat with my friends — a group of women. On our boat there were maybe 10 men, but a lot of women.
A woman who can do this alone, can continue her life without a man. That surprised me.
I miss my husband, but I am here alone. I must do a lot of things without him. It’s not easy, but I must do it. I must continue my life. And to try to reach him in Germany.
When I reach him, I hope to begin a new life, without shouting, fighting and war. To forget all of the bad.
What I miss most is drinking coffee in the morning and listening to music with my family. Every morning we would drink coffee together, father, mother and children and listen to music- especially Feiruz. I can’t forget this. I hope to be able to drink coffee and listen to music with the whole family together soon.