Student organization aims to support Syrian students

Temple Refugee Outreach wants the university to provide 10 scholarships to refugees.

More than half of all attacks on schools around the world from 2011 to 2015 happened in Syria, according to Save the Children, an international non-governmental organization.

Shiyam Galyon said this number is the reason she, along with other Syrian student activists, started the Books Not Bombs campaign, an initiative to push United States universities to offer scholarships to Syrian students and to join the IIE Syria Consortium for Higher Education in Crisis. The consortium is a network of colleges and universities that provide scholarships for Syrian students.

“There is a spider web of conflicts in the country,” said Galyon, who is the national campaign coordinator for Books Not Bombs. “But the central one that spans off all the other conflicts is between the regime and the civilians.”

Temple Refugee Outreach, a student organization that connects students with refugees and immigrants, wants to bring the Books Not Bombs campaign to Main Campus. TRO is collecting signatures to show to Student Financial Services and the admissions office, so the university could consider offering the scholarships for the 2018-19 academic year.

“As students of Temple, we think that some of the seats should go to Syrian refugees who would otherwise have no education,” the Temple campaign organizers wrote on its website.

The Books Not Bombs campaign was launched in February 2016 by Students Organize for Syria, a student-led movement to assist people in the country through education, advocacy and fundraising. Galyon and the other student activists created the book campaign in response to the education crisis in Syria.

The crisis in Syria has resulted in a “deliberate attack” on schools that are not under regime control, Galyon added.

MacKenzie Bonner, the president of TRO and a junior global studies and Spanish major, and Katie Pfeil, a junior marketing major and the vice president of the organization, interned at the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center, a nonprofit organization that facilitates refugee assimilation, in Rome last spring.

“We saw the really impactful experience and we felt a lot of great connections there so we thought that bringing that same type of environment to Temple would be really beneficial,” Pfeil said.

They both got in touch with Erin Heald, a junior global studies major who tutors immigrants from Mexico and Southeast Asia. She’s also interested in migratory issues, which inspired her to join the platform. Heald is now the fundraising chair for TRO.

“Scholarships are really key,” Galyon said. “Education is the most asked for thing, after food and shelter from Syrians.”

She added that scholarships are sources of mobility and a way to provide a safer environment for the Syrian students to succeed.

This semester, TRO held events to raise awareness for the Books Not Bombs campaign on Main Campus. They hosted a Refugee Awareness Week from April 10-14. They’ve also been working with the Nationalities Service Center, an immigrant resettlement organization in Philadelphia.

“We’ve done a lot of work and planning with them and we also have members volunteering and interning with NSC,” Heald said.   

Members of TRO hope to get 1,000 supporters to sign the campaign and get TSG to support their resolution.

“We hope that since Temple really prides itself on being such a diverse, accomodable school for everyone, this would be a great thing to have impact and show that you’re really doing something,” Pfeil said.

“I feel like seeing a successive small group of refugees, these 10 refugees that would receive the scholarships, that would be really impactful for the larger population of refugees in the city,” Heald said. “It would also just show that there are people that care about their well-being and success. I think that’s probably the most important things for refugees that are already settled here is to know that they are welcome and that we care.”

Ayooluwa Ariyo can be reached at

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