Despite fears of bombardments, security restrictions and intense financial pressures, students at Damascus University have not abandoned their studies. As the crisis in Syria enters its fourth year, 90 percent of students are still undertaking their exams, according to the country’s Ministry of Education.
Syria Deeply met with Maryam Sulaiman, a 24-year-old journalism student from Tartus who currently resides in Jaramana, six miles outside the capital. She spoke at length about the difficulties she has faced in attempting to complete her studies during the current crisis, and the psychological – and financial – toll this has taken on her and hundreds of thousands of other students.
Syria Deeply: Could you describe your daily journey to and from college?
Maryam: I need more than three hours daily on the road to and from college, which forced me to change my life routine. If I had an exam at eight in the morning, then I would have to wake up at six o’clock, and this is an exhausting matter and a waste of time especially for students during the exams. On the way to college, we are always scared of getting late as we get stuffed in the public transportation buses. I need three buses to college and another three back home, and it all comes with high expenses and difficult circumstances.
Syria Deeply: How much do you spend daily on transportation from home to college?
Maryam: I need 250 syrian pounds (1.25$) daily to take six buses, because recently the price of fuel was increased, thus bus tickets became more expensive as well, and it went from 25 syrian pounds (0.125$) to 40 syrian pounds (0.2$), but because of the difficulty to get on these buses, I sometimes find myself obliged to take private buses which costs me 350 syrian pounds (1.75$) a day. Everything now is more expensive.
As for the out-of-town transportation, I need 2,500 syrian pounds (12.5$) monthly to go and come back from my hometown, because my family lives in another province. But if we were to talk about all the expenses in general, they’re enormous and the prices have doubled at least five times.
Syria Deeply: How much do you approximately spend a month as a college student?
Maryam: I need at least 15,000 syrian pounds (75$) to cover my college expenses alone, not to mention the personal expenses. This amount of money is divided between transportation fees and lecture papers, without considering traveling expenses during vacations, personal expenses, the price of meals in college when we stay there late, internet, mobile and clothes expenses, in addition to everything else a college student and a girl could need.
If we were to include all these expenses, the amount of money would definitely go a lot beyond 15,000 (75$), because all life requirements are now five or six times more expensive than they used to be.
Syria Deeply: How is the situation of electricity in Jaramana area where you live?
Maryam: When we were students in the first year, I managed to pass 11 out of 12 exams studying in the light of candles due to the absence of electricity in our area for long hours, and sometimes it goes away for days. As for the second year, the situation of electricity did not improve but the way students adapted with the problem has improved, especially that it has become a certain part of their daily life.
Since electricity is gone for four or five days continuously, I stopped using candles and started to deal with this problem in a vital way just like all other students did. I bought chargeable lights, as you could charge them for six hours. This is a suitable solution for studying at night, especially in the exam periods, but we must not ignore that electricity is not just about light: most of the things a student needs rely on electricity.
Syria Deeply: The last exam that took place a few days ago came at a time of heightened tensions and constant shelling: how did you deal with this?
Maryam: The first time I came to Damascus to study I didn’t know the meaning of shells and missiles. I used to hear about them only on T.V. Two years ago, a shell fell on the roof of our house. I was alone at home and I had an exam to study for. I continued studying in spite of my obsession that another one might come at any moment.
Last Thursday, we knew there were more shells to come, but I thought I’m no better than the rest of the students and I should go to the exams as well. The road from home to college was dangerous, as I had to pass by many jeopardised areas such as Jaramana, Bab Tuma, Bab Sharqi, Old Damascus, Baramika, and al-Mazza. When I approached the university, the horrifying sounds got louder. I knew from a friend that the exam was officially postponed, but I went on my way to Damascus University until I made sure of that with my own eyes. Then, on my way back, the sounds and the scenes were all terrifying.
Syria Deeply: Did this affect you psychologically?
Maryam: I took the decision three times to stop my college registration and go back to my hometown where it’s safer, just to run away in any manner from this horrible reality. But all the ways are dead ends for the student who cannot afford to quit their exams, so they’re forced to stay and go on anyway. This stress shows clearly during the exams, especially [because] students that are taking exams need a mentally and psychologically comfortable environment where they can study with no tension or distraction, and with absolute comfort, a matter that’s been gone for most of our college life.
Syria Deeply: Have you lost any of your friends in college through these events?
Maryam: Yes I have. We lost a friend who died from a shell that fell near al-Abbasids Square, and there are many friends who left the country and went abroad to finish their college education. This is the obsession of every student who wishes to have a proper education, and to work in better circumstances in another country.
As for travelling, almost every student has either traveled already or wishes to travel.
Syria Deeply: Have you ever thought about traveling somewhere else?
Maryam: Although I had turned down a scholarship a while ago because I wanted to stay by my friends and my community, but now I live alone anyway. When you and your family live in different provinces, it’s like being in an exile already. So I would agree to study abroad if there was an opportunity for it as long as it harms no one and doesn’t relate directly to the conflict, although the whole media field is related to crisis.
Photo Courtesy of Yazan al-Homsy