In Syria now, it is a time of division, violence and suffering. When we were there in November 2010 and in August 2011, we recorded many stories of cooperation and development. Nowadays, only sad and violent stories are narrated about this wonderful country. What then shall we do with these stories we collected in Syria in what now seems to be a different "age" altogether? Well, we decided to re-edit the videos we had made, include them in the Handbook we are developing and share them through the Internet. These videos will help us remember what Syria was before the civil war. And we hope that these stories will help restore trust amongst communities in Syria, and build, amongst those who love this country, the motivation to do whatever they can to restore peace and cooperation.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians are now fleeing from the violence in their country and have become refugees abroad, especially in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. But for many years, Syria hosted millions of refugees - earlier from Palestine and then from Iraq. Although it has often been pointed out that Syrian authorities never allowed political freedom to the refugees, Syrians generally treated foreigners with respect; and refugees were given the same status as was enjoyed by the Syrian citizens themselves.
In 2011, we visited a school in Damascus, where most of the students were refugees from Iraq. The school was run by the Syrian Government and education was free for all students. It was one of the schools where a special education programme was being pilot tested. Designed in cooperation between the Syrian Ministry, UNICEF and the European Union, the objective of this special programme was to promote a child-centered approach in education.
The greatest challenge of this initiative was the active involvement of the whole community.
This model of child-centered schools was quite successful and the next phase of the programme was to train other Syrian teachers so that the lessons learned in these experimental schools could have been shared and applied across schools in Syria.
The images of these videos are of children in Syria in 2011. Since the start of the civil war in 2012, hundreds of children have been killed in Syria. Thousands have been displaced. And hundreds of thousands have had their relatives killed, wounded, arrested, deported. And these numbers are increasing every day.
When shall we learn that non-violence is always the only means to bring about empowerment? Where are the educators of the opinion and policy makers? Perhaps, it should be compulsory for decision makers, before they take on any form of leadership, to first be school teachers: perhaps only then would they acquire that humaneness that is needed for being authentic and trusted community leaders.
Because liberation is always a blossoming of enabled personalities. Instead, imposition of whatsoever value and norm does not liberate anyone. And violence brutalizes the souls of all.