The Syrian Phoenix


“Mohamad Duma”

“What a cruel thing war is…. To fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors…”

Robert E. Lee*

General (1807–1870)

US Civil War

The words of Lee, have definitely reached the heart of the artist who he says that he “draws on death” and creates something for the living – from death.

These are the leftover casings of shells and bombs – weapons that were used in the war in Syria.

It is amazing how Syrians are reacting in the face of so much suffering and death; in war everyone suffers. If we wanted a source of hope and motivation, then it is definitely with the work of this artist – and others like him.

These works of art make us feel life – and hope – by looking at the artifacts of war and death very differently. As a Syrian citizen, I feel so proud to have such an artist in my country; he gives me the strength to continue, and demonstrates to me the proof that my country, Syria, will rise from death like a Phoenix.

And the question for me today, challenged by this artist, is what works of art will I, and my fellow Syrians, create today in Chicago for our homeland?

This is my Syrian Phoenix.

About the artist

*Born on January 19, 1807 in Stratford, Virginia, Robert E. Lee came to military prominence during the U.S. Civil War, commanding his home state’s armed forces and becoming general-in-chief of the Confederate forces towards the end of the conflict. Though the Union won the war, Lee has been revered by many while others debate his tactics. He went on to become president of Washington College.

Presenting “Hope” at USF


I just came back from inspiring 34 students at the University at St. Francis in Joliet, I feel proud of myself and of the Syrian Students at IIT.

I didn’t prepare a motivational speech; to be honest I didn’t have any speech prepared at all. I was invited to join their International culture week along with my friend Safouh, to talk about our culture and education.
Things didn’t go according to plan, I started talking about my beloved country and the rich Arabic culture and how much we value education, and ended up telling stories about the Syrian Students at IIT and the enormous effort we all did to get to where we are.

I told them about my friends who fled the country’s worst time in modern history and almost dropped out of collage because of the war and other major obstacles, and how those same friends are now IIT graduates with full time positions in Goldman Sachs and Motorola.
I knew I inspired those 34 students who attended our presentation with our stories when I saw the look on their faces changing from pity to respect. I gave them a live example of overcoming the largest obstacles anyone can ever face and succeeding. I am sure that every one of them could relate to this in their own terms.

I am thankful to be able to present the story of Syrians at IIT, however I am blessed for being part of the story, a story of Hope.

Majed Abdulsamad
Major: Architecture

Expected date of Graduation: May 2016

Harvard Arab Weekend; Inspiring Solutions


Over the span of four days, from Nov 6-9, I was lucky enough to be present with some of the brightest minds from the MENA (middle east and north africa) region to discuss the future of that part of the world. Harvard hosted their 8th annual Arab weekend with the presence of roughly a thousand attendees from all around the world.

For those of you who have not heard of this event, I will summarize what you missed; it was a conference that gathered social activists, journalists, economic analysts, entrepreneurs, students and researchers from Harvard community and the Arab world. Throughout the four days of the event, I was able to see the bright side of the Arab world through talks and lectures on human rights, equality, social liberation, freedom of speech, art and culture.

I was thrilled to see the enormous potential of Arab students and professors gathering under the roof of Harvard and taking their responsibility to build a better future for their countries. Furthermore, the good number of American and international students who joined the HAW2014 to contribute to this cause sent a loud message of unity and compassion.

Themed “Inspiring Solutions”, the Harvard Arab Weekend 2014 truly inspired me and everyone who attended to stop thinking of the problems and the obstacles, and start creating ways to fix those problems, make a change and help the so-called “Arab world” to become a better place. Now the ball is in our court as Syrian students at IIT to join this great movement in making our world a better place.

Majed Abdulsamad
Major: Architecture
Exp. graduation: May 2016

My Search for Meaning


In the last couple of weeks I had the chance to read a book full of influence and positive energy called ”Man’s Search for Meaning.”

The author, Viktor Frankl, described his experience in a concentration camp during World War II, and how an experience full of pressures and challenges could affect the future of a prisoner.

In his book, Frankl introduced his logotherapy theory. According to Frankl’s theory, no matter what the circumstances under which we live, or the challenges that we face, life will always have a meaning. We will find that meaning the minute we start looking for it.

I think this book should be taught in our curriculum.

As Syrians, we are witnessing and living – and far too many of us dying – through an era where most of us lost the road, and we need to find the meaning of life – and in our lives – again.

Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning describes one individual’s account that what we are witnessing is not exceptional; far too many nations and families have suffered through such a circumstances.

What really makes the different between nations is the way they handle their crises. We should keep looking for the meaning of our lives until we manage to control the crisis and use it as a strength factor to become a better nation. A nation that has a clear vision for its life and its future, and a commitment to rebuild the familial foundation of our country, and to work with others – within and outside of Syria – to build a civil and humanitarian society that works steadfastly and earnestly to renew and create the institutions and organizations that will work together for peace such that no other country or peoples must endure what we have over these last several years.

We should make Syria stronger and the world as well.

And we must find our own Frankl’s and share their Syrian stories for they are indeed living heroic lives of inspiration amidst so much tragedy.

Safouh Takrouri

IIT Armour College of Engineering | Expected graduation, December 2014

Safouh can be reached at

Small Efforts Matter: let’s make giving contagious

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A few days ago, I had the chance to participate in Chicago’s Hot Chocolate 5k/15k Run along with many of other Syrians. Some of us were volunteering while others were running to raise money.

The annual Chicago race aims at raising money for the Ronald McDonalds House that provides temporary housing for many families in need when their children have extended stays in the hospital.  In all, more than 40,000+ runners – young and old – who ran either the 5k or 15k around Chicago – a beautiful city with more green spaces than you might imagine and some remaining fall colors in the trees.

The group of Syrians who participated in the race raised an additional set of funds that will contribute to the humanitarian efforts to save and comfort the lives of Syrians. In all, this group gathered together nearly $40,500 in contributions over a two-week period.

Another group of Syrians – myself included – volunteered to help with the distribution of the runners’ gear and finish line gifts. This is the second experience that I have had as volunteer in this race and it always makes me feel good that I am giving back to Chicago in a small way.  This year is especially meaningful to me because I was very proud to see my fellow Syrians trying to raise awareness about Syria too – and contribute to needs of Chicago’s families.

We are – after all – one-humanity and one people; and we can’t focus on one problem and forget the others. In some  way or another, we are all connected to everything and each other.

We care about Syria and the US and other countries as well. There are people in need in every country around the world and reaching out to them and supporting them in one way or another is what really makes us human.

Giving is contagious.  When we receive a gift we want to give to others.

We should never give up or think that our contribution won’t matter because if we put a small effort once in a while we will be able to change someone’s life somewhere around the world.

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If I could vote, I would


If I could vote, I would vote. I know people who literally died to get this right (privilege).
I mean no matter how much you hate politics, politicians and these stuff, enjoy the right that someone died to give to you; vote to honor those people…

By Jamal

November 4, 2014 – Election day in the U.S.

The Ebola Virus – Students Speak at Illinois Tech

We are pleased to once again introduce you to our good friend Jong Massaquoi — a fellow IIT student from the country of Liberia. Jong is a 4th year student in the IIT Stuart College of Business with a minor in architecture. A fellow classmate at Illinois Tech; Jong was among the very first people that greeted many of us – and indeed nearly everyone from the 1st August/September 2012.

Since Jong’s last post, the Ebola crisis has hit not only his own country but that of surrounding countries as well. We are well aware that in our own country of Syria, the number of polio cases has begun to grow once again as a result of the conflict.

At IIT, we know that we are a community of students from every part of the US and more than 100 countries; we believe that our diversity and inclusion will serve Illinois Tech and our world. We hope to welcome Jong and so many of our IIT classmates to Syria, to visit their homes, and to learn and work together through our shared histories, and our lives to see how we will build – and design – a better tomorrow, for all.

Together we can do more; our first step is to learn. Empathy, impact and engagement follow. We are pleased to share Jong’s video with you and this introduction to the video post.

- the Editors, the IIT Syrian Student Blog

The Ebola Virus – Students Speak at Illinois Tech

“The Ebola situation in West Africa seems to be getting worst and worst by the day. There have been few heroic stories here and there but overall we are not really seeing big improvements. More especially the situation in Liberia has gotten worst. Liberia is now leading in number of deaths and cases reported. I am following the stories and headlines from my position here in Chicago, Illinois. For the most part I cannot be of much help and this reality sucks because I have a lot of family still back in Liberia. Although I may not have enough resources, I got this idea to make an Ebola Awareness video here at my school (Illinois Institute OF Technology in Chicago). With this video I have a wider and global audience and my audience has their own audiences. The goal here is for you to watch it, learn about Ebola, and take a SPECIFIC course of action.

As a young professional aspiring to someday contribute back home in Liberia these events/problems allow me to see the kinds of problem/ resources that Liberia is lacking/in need off.

So that is it. These are the facts; these are real stories, and real people. Compassion doesn’t have an address, so it’s up to you reading this blog right now. How will you be a positive agent of change? Your help is needed NOW.

We have but one humanity, and wherever we live, we must learn to work and live together. I have learned this in meeting my new friends from Syria and dozens and dozens of others from small towns and big cities in the US – and across the globe.

Thank you.

Jong Massaguoi

About the Author: Born in Lofa County, Liberia, Jong Massaquoi is currently a 4th year student at Illinois Institute of Technology. Although Jong has spend the past 10 years in the United States, he still has deep roots and connections to his home country Liberia and to the continent of Africa. Jong contributes regularly to the IIT community and over the last three years have been involved with student organizations such: African Student Organization (ASO), National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and the Undergraduate Business Council. In addition, Jong has worked as a Student Ambassador for the IIT Office of Undergraduate Admission since 2012 where he introduces new first-year and transfer students to the university through: giving campus tours, booking campus visits, and helping out at Admissions events. Jong remains dedicated to providing educational opportunities for young Liberians and Africans. After obtaining his MBA someday, Jong hopes to build a thriving business conglomerate in his home country; this journey begins with building the educational infrastructure in his home country and establishing learning exchanges between university level students in Liberia, and Illinois Institute of Technology.


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