May Alherek | Syria | BA, Environmental Sciences | Asian University for Women, Bangladesh

20-year-old May Al-Herek has been witness to atrocities people in nations at peace cannot begin to comprehend. May is from Syria, a country that has experienced civil war since 2011. ISIS controls parts of Syria’s territory and has carried out massacres near May’s hometown of Hama.

The death toll in the country is estimated to exceed 500,000, with millions of Syrians having been forced to flee their communities or the country. Millions more have been left in poor living conditions with shortages of food, drinking water and power. The economy is in shambles.

In Syria, May was a top student, but with conditions deteriorating rapidly, she took the opportunity to leave the country on a scholarship to the Asian University for Women in Bangladesh with the help of a collaboration between the University and the Spark of Hope Foundation.

To outsiders, the decision to leave the conditions in her home country would seem an easy one to make, but May had never travelled outside of Syria, nor lived in a different culture. She was leaving conditions brought by civil war for a great unknown. Syria might seem the last place one would want to be at present, but for May it is still home and she left her family far behind for an uncertain future.

While homesickness is a feeling many students endure when leaving for school the first time, for May it also carries the weight of fear for the safety of her family and friends left behind. Yet, today she bravely pursues an Environmental Sciences program in Bangladesh. After graduation, she plans to pursue a Master’s degree and a PhD in the West before returning to Syria.

But why return to conditions that most would hope to escape forever? May is driven by her desire to help restore the environment in Syria where war has taken a heavy toll. Her education will provide her with the framework to do so and quite possibly the spark to inspire greater hope among her people.

 “I want to use my education to help clear the country of the destruction and weaponry of war and the pollution that is growing daily.”

by Marissa Pura