Spring of 2017 was an unforgettable time of campaigning thrill and election buzz for Syrian students studying in Lebanon. All the action came down to the formation of a Student Representative Committee in mid-May which now consists of 13 representatives from university campuses and vocational institutions. The Committee got to business on Friday May 26, shortly after the elections’ results were out, to serve the goal of linking the SPARK team with students.

In their first meeting, SPARK was pleasantly surprised to find the students so dedicated to keeping their campaign promises and making positive changes. They discussed the students’ main role as communicators in their respective campuses. They were encouraged to make the necessary voices of their fellow students heard by collecting questions and suggestions and sharing their concerns with SPARK and its partners. Issues such as students’ daily commute, renewing their residence permit and complications when it comes to choosing/changing university majors are among the challenges that SPARK hopes to address alongside the Student Representative Committee.

Throughout the meeting students gave a brief presentation on their universities/institutes’ challenges, possible solutions to them and ideas for improvement. Some, determined to fire up the engines of change, mentioned that in their new role they would like to enable fellow students in accessing more educational assistance. “Many students need trainers to improve their language and technical skills. As their elected representatives, we would like to make sure everyone enjoys a pleasant educational experience.” expressed a number of representatives. 

A lot came out of the very first meeting: from creating an e-library to improve access to different textbooks, to the possibility of summer courses to speed up graduation so students can get a full time job and provide for themselves and their families. “Almost all representatives agreed that the most important point on the to-do list should be providing language courses to improve English language skills among students. The language barrier poses a great obstacle for their studies at the moment” explained one SPARK team member.

Stepping out of their comfort zones and summoning courage and confidence to represent a group of their own did not come easily to these students, who are often emotionally torn by conflict and eventually forced to flee to neighbouring countries, such as Lebanon. Yet they stepped out of themselves and didn’t let fear hold them back. “I would like to spread the word on SPARK’s activities and plans for us, students in the region. I want to help my peers let go of what has happened to them and their families in the past and focus on the positive changes and new opportunities around them” said Ihsan Zaghmout, representing Tamkeen Institute.

SPARK has been active in Lebanon since 2015 with its programme of Higher Education for Syrians (HES), which supports Syrian refugees in accessing higher education and becoming future community, business and national leaders. This will prevent a ‘brain-drain’ and enable a strong, educated workforce to rebuild Syria once it is stabilised.