Students raise awareness on Syria

Posted on August 21, 2013

After a mortar attack killed at least 10 students at Damascus University, concerned UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton students banded together April 4 to hold a vigil in remembrance of those killed and other victims of the fighting in Syria.

“It really hits home when they’re killing university students who are supposed to be the intellect of our generation, the engineers and the doctors, who are supposed to rebuild Syria after the falling of the regime,” said Sabreen Shalabi, 21, a fourth-year student at UCI who helped organize the vigil.

It was unclear who fired the mortar rounds that killed at least 10 students on March 28, with the Syrian government and rebels blaming each other, The Associated Press reported.

Since the start of the civil unrest in Syria, many Syrian-American students have taken it upon themselves to be at the forefront of activism.

“For me, it’s not because I’m Syrian, but because I see little kids and human beings that are sacrificing themselves every day, protesting on the street knowing that they might die, but they’re doing all this just for Syria to be free … that’s what motivates me,” said Bayanne Kanawati, 18, a first-year student at Cal State Fullerton and a vigil organizer.

Like Kanawati, Shalabi is also inspired by the suffering in Syria to help in any way she can.

“I can’t accept being in a world that has all these injustices and doing nothing about them,” Shalabi said. “I feel like it’s my responsibility as a human being to constantly fight these injustices rather than just being still.”

Even though she has been involved with other causes, Shalabi says the conflict in Syria has been more personal.

“Because I’m Syrian, I’m really connected to Syria,” Shalabi said. “I’ve had a lot of family suffer there (in Syria); I’ve had a lot of family pass away there because of the revolution. I can never forget, and I’m constantly reminded of what’s happening.”

Two years after the Syrian uprising began, concerned UCI students have raised money, collected clothes for refugees and raised awareness through various means.

“The events at UCI have been constant since the beginning of the revolution,” Shalabi said.

However, only recently have the UCI students established themselves as an official school organization called Students for Syrian Relief. The April 4 vigil was part of a nationwide awareness effort organized by the Syrian American Council.

The students are planning more events that will bring awareness to the conflict in Syria and aid for those in need. For instance, they plan to raise money to sponsor orphans through a group called Life USA.

Originally published in the Orange County Register.

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