MESA Academic Freedom Award
In 2001, through our committee on Academic Freedom, MESA began to recognize outstanding contributions to academic freedom – whether in the MENA region or beyond – with an annual award. The awards initially cited individuals, both those who had defended academic freedom and/or had been victims of state harassment or persecution in – Egypt, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the US.
Then in 2005, with our award to a group of scholars who had organized and participated in a controversial workshop on Armenian-Turkish scholarship, and again in 2010, when we selected the Israeli human rights organization Gisha, CAF began to move beyond the recognition of individuals to institutions or larger groups of educators and activists.
While the state of academic freedom in the region in general remains deplorable, since 2011 we have continued to use this award to highlight countries where there has been significant deterioration. In 2010 we cited the Iranian Advocacy for the Right to Education, in 2011, the efforts of faculty, students and staff of Bahraini institutions of higher education, in 2012 the Turkish Initiative for Solidarity with Detained Students (TÖDİ), and last year selected the Egyptian Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression.
Our 2013 selection of the Scholar Rescue Fund and Scholars at Risk owed in part to their important work with Syrian academics. Given the ongoing war in Syria, we felt it imperative this year to focus full attention there, where the widespread devastation and massive population displacement have severely compromised, and in many instances obstructed completely, even the most basic access to education—at all levels. The dreadful implications of the ongoing carnage and destruction for the country’s present are dwarfed only by their implications for future possibilities of rebuilding.
For those of you interested in the state of education among Syria refugees, I commend to you a series of reports produced by a joint International Institute for Education, UC Davis and Carnegie Corporation project which in 2013 and 2014 researched conditions in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
Today there are many groups involved in myriad forms of support to Syrian refugees, whose numbers have now exceeded 4 million officially registered with UNHCR, more than half of whom are under the age of 18. We are very happy to announce that our consultations and research on the educational sector have led us to choose Jusoor for this year’s Academic Freedom award. Jusoor is an NGO created and run by Syrian expatriates, with offices in the US and Lebanon. It does not take a political position; rather it is focused on bringing educational and professional development to all young Syrians displaced by the conflict. Jusoor has been working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon since June 2013. It seeks to reach as many Syrian refugee children in Lebanon as possible, to ensure that they are enrolled in formal education wherever possible; it supports solid educational outcomes and quality instruction, and engages volunteers in the program.
In addition, through six different scholarship programs, Jusoor helps Syrian students looking to complete their studies abroad at top universities across the US, Canada, Europe and Middle East. It partners with the IIE (International Institute of Education), the Said Foundation, the Illinois Institute of Technology (which has accepted more Syrian students than any other US institution), among others.
In support of these programs, Jusoor also offers academic advice through its Study Abroad Mentorship Program. The initiative is focused on connecting expatriate Syrians and volunteers with students both in Syria and among those recently displaced outside the country to provide coaching and mentoring regarding academic study abroad. Students receive guidance from their mentors on such varied topics as college admissions procedures and the application process, fields of study and campus life, anticipated living expenses, as well as how to write a personal statement or apply for a visa.
Colleagues of ours who are familiar with Jusoor uniformly characterized it as the most professional and effective of the NGOs assisting Syrian refugees with pursuing their education.
Therefore, in recognition of the critically important work it is engaged in to promote education among the next generation of Syrians, the members of MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom ask you to join us in saluting this year’s recipient of our Academic Freedom award: Jusoor (http://jusoorsyria.com)