Syrians in Dubai look to rebuild homeland

Jusoor (bridges) group aims to help rebuild war-torn nation through economic aid and improving education prospects of the young

“There are a lot of Syrians and friends of Syria who are interested in doing something good for the country,” says Dania Ismail.
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DUBAI // Syrians living in Dubai are among the founders of a global group set up to launch educational programmes and initiatives to give their homeland a brighter future.

Jusoor (bridges) is non-political and non-religious, and was formed to channel the energies and resources of Syrian expatriates worldwide into advancing their country's development.

"The main objective of Jusoor is to get expats engaged in projects that will help the development of Syria in different ways - economically, through education and other aspects," said Fadi Salem, one of its co-founders. "We have 20 million expatriate Syrians around the world - as many, almost, as live inside the country.

"They have a lot of resources and most of them - because of what is happening in Syria these days - are very eager to do something, but they're not sure what to do. What we are providing is a medium - a structured way for them to support the development of the country."

Mr Salem, from Aleppo, has lived in the UAE for more than 10 years and is the director of the Dubai School of Government's governance and innovation programme.

Other members of the leadership team live in Syria and the US. Worldwide, the group has 700 members.

Dania Ismail, another co-founder, said: "There are a lot of Syrians and friends of Syria who are interested in doing something good for the country. I hope there will be a lot of these networks that help Syria in a non-profit kind of way, helping to develop education in rural areas and helping the youth to achieve, because they are the future of Syria.

"We want these people to one day go back to Syria and build it right. I see Jusoor having a great impact on what Syria could become by helping this young generation of Syrians to achieve something, whether that is in education, in business or in their careers."

The group has just held its first event, a reception in Dubai to launch a scholarship scheme that will help Syrian graduates continue their studies abroad.

"There is a need for financial support for these students," said Ms Ismail, who grew up in Dubai and works for the broadcaster MBC.

"We are trying to get the expat community interested in donating money to help us fund these students through school."

At the reception, held at the Ritz Carlton in DIFC on May 24, more than 200 guests saw works by leading Syrian artists that have been auctioned online to raise funds for the scholarship programme.

Another of the group's leaders, Maya Malas, said: "We all feel this is worthwhile and we can do a lot, but we're still at the first stages.

"This is why we had the event, we wanted people to know what we're doing, to get more people involved, and get ideas from everybody and see what they thought about our programmes."

The group has already launched a mentor scheme to help students in Syria who want to study for graduate or undergraduate degrees abroad.

Each student is paired with a recent overseas Syrian graduate who helps them get into the right university for them.

"They help them to choose the most suitable courses, how to apply, how to write essays," said Ms Ismail.

"These are things your typical Syrian student from a public school has not been trained to do - they don't have that kind of guidance in their schools."

Other projects in the works include one to provide entrepreneurs with investment and support from the global Syrian business community, and another to help with career development.

Emergency funding has been given to university students in Syria whose parents can no longer pay tuition fees.

"We're all Syrians working for a better future for our country," said Ms Malas, who is from Damascus but has lived in Dubai for two years. "That is what's important."