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Syria: Small Group of Young Students Create Secret Library Deep Underneath Bullet-Ridden Building

Amid the bombing campaign between the Syrian regime and rebel forces in the Damascus suburb of Daraya

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Syria, Students, Library
Some members of the secret library team gather in their underrground sanctuary in Daraya, Syria. (Photo courtesy of Ahmad Ma'dmani). VOA

Amid the bombing campaign between the Syrian regime and rebel forces in the Damascus suburb of Daraya, a small group of young students tried to bring normalcy to the chaos by creating a secret library deep underneath a bullet-ridden building.

The library was built to create a safe shelter for residents to gather and read.

For months, Mike Thomson, a British-based journalist, documented the students’ efforts in his book “Syria’s Secret Library: Reading and Redemption in a Town Under Siege.”

“Most of the town was under sniper fire from the government soldiers who were based in high-rise buildings near the front lines,” Thomson told VOA about the operation.

Syria, Students, Library
Damaged buildings line the street in Daraya after bombardment by the Syrian regime. VOA

“They gathered these books under sniper fire and sometimes under shell fire. They brought ladders with them to climb from windows. It was a dangerous exercise they often did during the night,” Thomson said.

Daraya, a suburb located 8 kilometers to the southwest of the Syrian capital, was one of the first areas to witness protests against the Syrian regime in 2011. It soon became a rebel stronghold and a major center of battle. The town suffered a brutal siege and ongoing bombardment by Russian-backed Syrian government forces and allied militias from 2012 to 2016.

Collecting books

During the middle of the siege, basic needs such as food, water and medical supplies were banned from entering the town. It was then that a group of volunteer students teamed up to stock the underground library.

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For months, they stowed over 1,400 books for public access, with volumes rescued from Daraya’s public library that was destroyed in a fire caused by a shelling in 2013.

“The library had become everything from a meeting place, tea room, education center, community center and a book club, where everyone discussed a book they read. Because of the lack of books, not everyone could read the same book,” Thomson said.

The library contained a wide collection of local and world literature, covering areas of history, science, religion and culture, and complete sets of encyclopedias. It included popular plays of Shakespeare, books by Syrian poets like Adonis and Maram al-Masri, Agatha Christie’s translated works, and a Marxist interpretation of Islam by author Muhammad Imara.

‘The soul needs food’

Syria, Students, Library
Books are rescued from a bombed and abandoned building to be taken to a secret library in the town of Daraya, Syria. (Photo courtesy of Daraya Council Media Team). VOA

When asked by Thomson why a group of young Syrians living under daily bombardment decided to risk their lives searching for books, Abdul Basit, a lead volunteer, said reading served as a spiritual salvation for many.

“I asked Abdul Basit, ‘You are living on a cup of watery soup every day. Why aren’t you out looking for food instead of books?’ Abdul Basit answered, ‘Like the body, the soul also needs food,'” Thomson said.

“They had hope all through this, and they still have hope, because at the end, rebel forces in Daraya had to surrender, and most of these people had to go to Idlib,” he added.

The siege on Daraya ended in August 2016 after the rebels made a deal with Syria that allowed them to evacuate with their families. The agreement reportedly allowed about 700 fighters and 4,000 civilians to leave the suburb before regime forces entered.

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Left behind

Basit and his team of volunteers were among those who had to flee Daraya to northern Syria, leaving the library behind. Unable to take the books, the members tried to conceal the library by blocking its entrance with pieces of shattered concrete.

Despite their efforts, Syrian government forces were able to find the makeshift library. The fate of thousands of books remains unclear, according to Basit, who has been unable to return home due to the regime’s fierce control.

“I miss everything about that special place,” Thomson said in his book. “It wasn’t just a repository of books. It was another world, a world we shared together. And while outside was destruction and pain, inside was creation and hope. …  I felt inspired inside these walls.”

With Syria going into its ninth year of conflict, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and injured, and millions have been displaced.

Over half of all Syrians have been displaced from their homes. Forty percent of them are living in northwest Syria and over 3.6 million are refugees in Turkey, according to a report published last April by the World Health Organization. (VOA)

Next Story

Tech Giant Apple Empowering Students in Burhanpur Pen Success on iPads

Apple Teacher is a free online professional learning programme designed to support and celebrate the great work of teachers around the world

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Apple, Campus, China
A customer is entering the Apple store in Fairfax, Virginia. VOA

BY NISHANT ARORA 

Frequented by historians and art lovers seeking solace in its rich past, another transformation, albeit quietly, is taking place in the city of Burhanpur and this time, Cupertino-based tech giant Apple is empowering talented kids at the Macro Vision Academy (MVA) to find their place in the fast-changing world.

One of the handful schools in India that has employed iPads and Mac desktops for imparting education, the CBSE-affiliated, day-cum-residential school has customised Apple products to improve students’ results and rankings – thus earning the tag of ‘Apple Distinguished School’ (ADS) for the second time in a row.

Worldwide, there are 470 ADSs in 34 countries and four are in India. Apple Distinguished Schools share their achievements by collaborating with Apple teams to host on-site Apple Distinguished Educators (ADEs) visits. The educators showcase best practices for using iPad, Mac, apps, multi-touch books and other digital materials to create powerful learning experiences.

At the Academy which is touted as the complete Gurukul, students are creating world-class apps while teachers are busy imparting lessons via Apple TVs in classrooms as students deploy iPads at the same time to imbibe real-time learning, including music on iPad.

The benefits of learning on iPads – nearly all students at the Academy are equipped with iPads and the Academy has over 150 top-of-the-line iMacs at its fully-equipped iMac Lab — are numerous: Learn and revise on the go, lesser books to carry, analytical performance reports to improve and track the growth, digitised voice notes at a secured Wi-Fi campus, and much more.

Today, the MVA students are working at Goldman Sachs, Deloitte, Uber, IBM, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, Infosys, Microsoft, Adobe, and several other top-notch firms. They have got admissions to prestigious universities like Penn State University, The State University of New York and all IITs.

Apple iPad in frame
Apple iPad. Wikimedia Commons

According to Anand Prakash Chouksey, Director, MVA, iPads and iMacs are part of students’ everyday life at Macrovision.

“The devices help teachers connect with students in a seamless way. The digital approach has increased kids’ interest in studies and their confidence levels have gone up too. They think in a more creative manner while looking at the same old curriculum. This has increased parents’ confidence too,” Chouksey told IANS during the campus visit.

Apple School Manager at the premises is a simple, web-based portal for IT administrators to manage people, devices, and content all from one place. There is a redesigned user interface, more powerful ways to manage bulk activities, and greater control over accounts and classes.

“With the help of Apple School Manager, installing, maintaining and integration of 2,500 iPads was simple and did not incur any extra cost. It also gave us the flexibility to customize and implement policies as per our school needs,” informed Vijay Sukhwani who takes care of the entire Apple ecosystem at the campus.

Apple Classroom app turns iPads and Macs into powerful teaching assistants. The app also makes it easy to share information and send and receive files with the entire class and individual students using AirDrop, or show student work on the big screen.

All Apple products are built with an integrated approach to privacy and security and providing schools with devices, apps, and services that keep students’ work and personal information secure.

With Managed Apple IDs, the school controls student information and can choose to enable or disable apps and services such as iMessage, FaceTime or student progress reporting with the Schoolwork app.

Apple iPad
At the Academy which is touted as the complete Gurukul, students are creating world-class apps while teachers are busy imparting lessons via Apple TVs in classrooms as students deploy iPads at the same time to imbibe real-time learning, including music on iPad. IANS

Jay Firke from the school who attended Apple’s annual flagship Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Jose, California, last year is super excited.

“I have created an e-portfolio app wherein class teachers can fill the students’ report about their skills and educational topics. The app currently works on school Wi-Fi,” Firke told IANS.

“I have also worked on an iOS school app which is made with Swift 4.1. This app includes all our school details,” he added, as his team members showcased some of the apps they have built in the classroom.

Apple has also developed apps that help teachers at the Academy put the power of technology to work, bringing ideas into their lessons and productivity to their classrooms.

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The ‘Schoolwork’ app makes it easy for teachers to share class materials, assign activities within apps and view students progress. Students have one place to see assignments, submit work and view their own progress.

Apple Teacher is a free online professional learning programme designed to support and celebrate the great work of teachers around the world.

“We are aiming for an all-round development of not only students but also teachers as true digital learning can only happen then”, said a beaming Chouksey. (IANS)