In November last year, when the situation in Syria started to worsen, a group of Syrian expatriates came up with the idea of starting Jusoor — Arabic for bridges — an organisation that brings the global Syrian community together in an effort to help Syrians in their homeland. It was their way of “doing something” in a situation they felt very helpless about.
Leen Al Zaibak, based in Toronto, is one of the co-founders of the organisation. She said the idea really came out of the “desire to bring the Syrian community together and unite them for a greater good”.
“The main drive behind Jusoor is the love and attachment we have to our country. Syrians, both inside and outside Syria, share the same goal — to see Syria as a country that can reach its full potential. Our aim is to create bridges, ‘jusoor’, between the two groups and find ways and projects in which we can work together for a better future for Syrians within Syria,” she told “Weekend Review”.
Today, almost 18 months later and with a board of nine members from across the world and 1,700 members in 25 countries, Jusoor is well on track in achieving its goals.
Being an apolitical organisation, and with its present focus on education, it has been easier for Jusoor to move forward. The organisation is now working to raise $5,000,000 (Dh18,365,684) for scholarship funds over the next five years. “We have raised the first $250,000 to launch the Jusoor Scholarship for Syrian Advancement Fund,” Al Zaibak said, which will help five students from Syria pursue their graduate school programmes, masters or PhDs, for the 2013-14 academic year abroad. “These will be partial scholarships, with support of up to $20,000 per student, depending on the financial need of the candidate.”
“The political situation in the country has affected the students, many of whom have been cut off from their universities, unable even to sit for their final-year exams. Jusoor plans to help them continue their studies outside Syria,” she added.
The organisation has also teamed up with the Illinois Institute of Technology to help with the selection of 50 students who will receive IIT Undergraduate Scholarships. So far 28 students from Syria have been selected to attend university from autumn this year, while the remaining spots have been reserved for the Spring 2013 semester.
However, with violence breaking out in Syria, many students on United States college and university campuses were cut off from their source of funding and left in urgent financial need. In March Jusoor partnered with the Institute for International Education (IIE), the American Syrian Arab Cultural Association (ASACA) and the Syrian American Medical Association (SAMA) to provide 46 grants worth $50,000 to assist these students.
However, Jusoor is also looking at initiating a new round of Syrian Emergency Student funding, which will help students beyond US universities.
“The Jusoor team is very enthusiastic about this programme and the opportunity to partner with IIE to help Syrian students around the world. As with the first round of grants, the second round will leverage host university support, including tuition waivers, meal plans, etc. Our target is to raise $200,000 in support of this programme, from among our shared networks and, of course, our members.”
Jusoor is also matching students with mentors through a study-abroad mentorship programme that will assist them through the university application process and sometimes even till the time they are accepted into a university.
Sometimes mentors even assist the students in figuring out which field of study they would like to pursue, which region they would like to go to and even which universities they would be interested in, along with sharing with them their own personal experiences.
Though there is no doubt that the work has been rewarding for the Jusoor team, Al Zaibak said it is not about “feeling good”. “I feel it is our duty as Syrians to help those in Syria achieve their potential, and provide them with the tools and skills necessary to achieve that,” she said. “The feedback has largely been positive ... I think Syrians also appreciate that we are 100 per cent apolitical, that they can help in some way without getting involved in politics.”
With the success it has achieved in its endeavours, Jusoor now hopes to launch programmes to help students within Syria, and aim to extend their network to include cities and countries that have Syrian communities, through an ambassador programme that will help build up the membership base and encourage members to recruit friends and family that live in the same place.
“As we roll out more programmes, we are sure that membership will increase. We expect there will be a significant jump with our first annual conference,” Al Zaibak said.
In November Jusoor will be holding its first annual global conference, in New York. It will focus on the role that the global Syrian community can play in shaping Syria’s future.
With several board members based in the UAE, Jusoor will also launch a pilot programme for career development, in which the organisation will work with companies to help recruit Syrian talent or find internship opportunities for students and fresh graduates. The programme will also help candidates present themselves professionally, find and apply to jobs, and even help them build their résumés.
“The idea is to draw on the skills of the Syrian expatriate community to offer guidance to young Syrians in selecting the right employers and looking for the right jobs in the right places,” Al Zaibak said.