Cablegate: International Education Week in Damascus Defys the Odds


DE RUEHDM #1164/01 3451244
R 111244Z DEC 07






E.O. 12958: N/A


Summary & Comment

(SBU) 1. International Education Week (IEW) programs and activities
helped put the American Cultural Center (ACC) back on the cultural
and educational map of Damascus. Nearly 500 Syrians crowded into
the Center's auditorium for events throughout the week, transforming
the ACC into a bustling hub of activity and meeting place for young
Syrians. IEW's success countered the prevailing view that the ACC
is closed to Syrians and that large-scale PD programming in Syria is
a non-starter. In the past, potential participants in PD events
were intimidated by the SARG in both subtle and overt ways and
attendence was minimal. PD Damascus is planning a number of
cultural and educational events in the coming months, both to
continue to probe the boundaries of the SARG's permissiveness and to
exploit the Syrian public's desire for engagement with the United

We Are Open and We Welcome You

(U) 2. "We are Open and We Welcome You," was the message conveyed
to more than 350 Syrian students who attended the IEW open house on
Monday, November 12th at the ACC. The capacity crowd filled the
Center's auditorium to bursting for the entire five hour program and
highlighted the robust cultural and educational exchange
relationship between Syria and the United States, as well as PD
programs and resources available to Syrian students. The open house
also benefited immensely from participation by the American Language
Center, the Damascus Community School, and the International Center
for Agriculture in the Dry Areas, the only major international
organization headquartered in Syria.

Syria's Biggest Export . . . Students

(U) 3. In the days following the open house, the Educational
Advising and Testing Office, in cooperation with the Consular
Section, offered two student advising and visa information sessions:
one for general students and one for medical students. More than
100 students participated over the two days. The full auditorium
for these programs shows that Syrians are not deterred from wanting
to study in the United States, despite a strained bilateral
relationship. Also, students were made aware of the services of the
new advising office at the Cultural Center; countering the notion
that these services are no longer available in Syria since the
closure of Amideast last year.

Syrians Speak Out

(SBU) 4. A few Syrians took the opportunity of IEW to speak out to
their fellow citizens. For example, a panel of five Syrian U.S.
alumni spoke with a group of 65 Syrian students about their
experiences in the United States. The panelists spanned multiple
generations and programs: an engineer who received his MA degree in
1969, a Fulbright alumus from 2001, a recent Humphrey alumna, and
alumni from the Summer Institutes and YES programs. The panelists
stressed the important lessons they had learned about leadership,
teamwork, independence, social and civic activism, volunteerism,
tolerance, and how they have drawn on these lessons in their
respective communities in Syria. In the current political climate,
it is extremely unusual and positive for Syrians to speak publicly
and proudly about their exchange and study experiences in the United

(SBU) 5. The head of the Syrian Environment Association (SEA) took
center stage during PD Damascus' weekly movie and discussion series,
which featured the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" in honor of
the "global citizenship" theme of IEW. A capacity crowd of 70-80
young Syrians filled the auditorium. The head of SEA spoke about the
threats to the environment in Syria and SEA's main campaign issues:
water conservation and anti-smoking. Stating that a lack of
awareness is the biggest challenge to environmentalism in Syria, he
stressed the importance of reaching out to the next generation to
ingrain in them concern for the environment.

--------------------------------------------- ------
Spotlight on Nursing Education and English Teaching
--------------------------------------------- ------

(U) 6. The two final events of IEW were a panel discussion on
nursing education and a workshop for English language teachers, both
on November 15. Six nurses who participated in a single-country IVLP
on nursing education in August-September 2007 addressed a group of
20 colleagues (nurses and doctors) at a local private hospital.
They came to an agreement with the doctors -- all U.S.-educated and
influential -- to work proactively to provide more training and
continuing education for nurses in Syria. For the capstone IEW
event, more than 60 English language teachers packed into the ACC
auditorium for an English language teaching workshop led by PD
Damascus' two English Language Fellows. All participants registered
for IRC services.


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