I woke up on January 15 to news that I just couldn’t handle. More than 80 students had just been killed on campus in Aleppo University, Syria. Over a hundred had been injured as well, and the death toll kept rising, as more bodies were uncovered in the rubble.
I got dressed and headed towards our own campus, but all day my mind was elsewhere. As I sat in class I wondered what it would feel like if the sound of planes meant death. I wondered what I would have done if I had been in Aleppo University. Would I have jumped out of a window, or hidden under a desk?
A friend who works at Syrian American Council contacted me and asked if the University of Michigan-Flint would like to be part of “Emergency Vigils for Students of Aleppo Across North America.” Several universities in the U.S. and in Canada were all to hold candlelight vigils mourning the massacre of the Syrian students by their own regime.
I wasn’t sure whether we could pull it off. It was late notice, everyone had classes or other commitments and I don’t know a lot of people-I just transferred here last semester.
The group effort that emerged amazed me. The cries of “Let Ink Flow, Not Blood” had gone viral, and so many people wanted to help. From printing fliers and distributing them, to making posters and volunteering to speak, what seemed like an impossible task to accomplish in 24 hours was suddenly reality.
As my friends and I walked toward the doors of the Recreation Center, we noticed the two vans belonging to WNEMTV-5 and ABC-12 that were parked outside. That wasn’t the best surprise though. The best surprise was when at 5:30 p.m., I started to see familiar and unfamiliar faces join us and pick up candles.
The past two years have been brutal. I’m an American but I’m a Syrian too, and watching the Syrian government kill more than 62,000 of its own people – just because they cried for freedom – has been unbearable. The regime has used tanks and war aircraft to kill civilians: targeting bakeries, refugee sanctuaries and destroying entire cities.
Flint is not a city without its own history of pain. Violence is no stranger here. I think the reason we all responded so strongly to this last breach of humanity in Syria was the fact that the massacre occurred on a campus. It is universally accepted that schools and universities should be a sanctuary, a safe place to seek knowledge. Universities are not a place where over 80 students should be killed by missiles fired at them while they took their final exams.
I really just want to thank everyone who made it to the vigil on Wednesday. Thank you for taking time to stand in silence and light a candle for the souls of students who were very much like us. These students only had one crime: seeking knowledge. Thank you for standing in solidarity with the architecture students of Aleppo, who only wanted to live and build a world that is free.
Heeba can be reached at email@example.com