Project Nur, a 5C social justice advocacy group, held a candlelight vigil on Tuesday, March 25 at the Bixby Plaza steps at Pomona College to raise awareness of the civil war in Syria. March 15 was the third anniversary of the beginning of the conflict, which, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, has led to at least 150,000 deaths.
“By holding a vigil, we wanted to not only raise awareness of the unthinkable atrocities being committed in Syria today, but also encourage increased dialogue and activism within the 5C community for humanitarian causes,” Project Nur Co-President Kate Ruston CM ’16 said.
The vigil was attended by approximately 50 students, faculty members, and community members from Claremont and the surrounding areas, including Mahmoud Harmoush, the imam at the Islamic Center of Claremont, and Colleen Taylor, the Los Angeles city coordinator for the U.S. Association for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Leila Alwan, a community member who worked on a psychosocial project for internally displaced peoples living inside schools in Syria, spoke at the event and described the conditions she encountered during her time in the country.
“We would open the children’s fridges to see if they had food, only to find molded bread and expired milk,” she said. “Some regions of the country have not had electricity for months. Entire families are forced to boil leaves and eat them because of a lack of food. The situation is truly heartbreaking.”
Azmi Haroun PZ ’15 also spoke at the event, asking that students “become aware of the human rights violations that are occurring in Syria at this very moment.”
For Haroun, the conflict has had an especially personal impact.
“My family is Syrian,” he said in an interview with TSL. “Both of my parents spent most of their youth growing up there. Before the conflict initiated three years ago, I would go back every summer and spend a month or two with relatives in a couple different cities all around the country.”
Haroun said that the vigil represented more than just a community gathering to reflect on the conflict in Syria.
“At this level, it is one of the most productive events to have on campus,” he said. “Because of its openness and informality, it allows students to come and learn about what is going on. Social media is something that helps mediate the conflict, but it’s also unreliable. Grassroots campaigning like this are necessary.”
Haroun also expressed dissatisfaction with media coverage of the situation in Syria.
“Major news networks have vastly underreported the issue,” he said. “Events such as the vigil are a trend that should be continued.”