Building with Legos in Chicago, Illinois – Syria: Different locations – Same vision


Today I was lucky enough to attend Lego Day at Illinois Institute of Technology, where kids come from everywhere in Chicago to play and build their ideas in famous Crown Hall. I was amazed by the beauty of what the structure and the “city” that the kids built together.

Kids are very smart; they just need a space and a chance to express their thoughts and ideas.

Looking at the kids today made me remember the studios of Jasmine Baladi where they have a Lego Day almost every day. Despite everything these children have experienced, they are still able to come to the studio with very creative and smart projects. Despite being displaced from their homes and the normalcy of everyday life, these children come together and sustain and renew their hope for a better future.

Children in Syrian refugee camps and those who are internally displaced need our help; upon my arrival to Chicago, I have understood that many of our children across Chicago’s neighborhoods require our engagement and involvement as well.  

We are separated by thousands of kilometers but parents and families in Syria and Chicago share the same vision for their children.  We are united in common themes; we all must do whatever we can to provide an opportunity for a better tomorrow.  And, we should work together, wherever we are and through our relationships and connect our communities and countries one person at a time.

Our children need us to keep thinking about them and use every possibility we can use to provide support for them.

My hope and dream is that the children playing Legos and building (and dreaming) in Syria and at the Jasmine Baladi Studio will meet and study with the children that I met today in Crown Hall.  That one-day, these children will meet and talk about what they did in the Summer of 2014 and see that their paths were destined to arrive at this point at Illinois Tech and together work for a better future.

I will wish and work for the time when these children – at very different places on July 12, 2014 – will find themselves studying at Illinois Tech; though they were in different places, we share a similar vision, and for me it that is that in their future they will be together attending their classes at Illinois Institute of Technology, my alma mater.  

And then, that we return to Syria and host similar LEGO Days – bridging play, and learning – for peace, hope and better tomorrows.

Suhaib Ibrahim

Armour College of Engineering – Civil Engineering

Illinois Institute of Technology

Expected graduation date: Dec 2014

Suhaib was born in Kamishli, Syria, he is currently a senior student at Illinois Institute of Technology, with earlier studies at Aleppo University and Damascus University. Suhaib is a Civil Engineering student with concentration in structural engineering.

Suhaib is currently working with Jasmine Baladi Studio, an NGO that is working to support the Syrian kids in refugee camps is Turkey. Suhaib can be reached at


To learn more about the Mies van de Rohe Society at IIT – one of the sponsors of today’s event, please visit:

To learn more about the Jasmine Baladi Studio, please visit:

Music: mends our souls, heals our hearts, and enriches our minds – a remedy for my torn city of Aleppo

Music is not just an alphabet or symbols. It is not just an international language. Indeed it is very difficult to describe what music is. Music is, in my opinion, a great way to unite people, as opposed to events such as war, which divide and tear nations and peoples apart. Music can make the world beautiful. In fact, music has the power to reflect the mosaic of our world harmonizing our differences (and various voices and notes) into a continuous and evolving sheet of music – and performance.

From all that I have seen from being around the community of musicians of whom I have met recently at Monmouth College, music can aid in helping us into looking at the world from another angle. Musicians, for example, do not always look to the financial, monetary, and temporary thing in life, but rather have the real desire is to see their students be accomplished and successful. I can see the cheerfulness in the eyes of our cello teacher when her students give a beautiful recital. It is as if her eyes have indicated that she has just won a battle or the greatest prize in the lottery. Not only does she give herself both physically and mentally to enriching the power of music in her students, but she also devotes herself to her students so that they may always achieve in the highest academic levels. When I think of my injured city of Aleppo, which has been torn by a savage civil war, I feel that music is able to be the remedy that can mend the souls of Syrian citizens. We should put our hands together and put in all our efforts to rebuild this city and country. Rebuilding the infrastructure is just one thing that be done with our hands, but rebuilding the humanity and deconstructing the antagonism from the minds of the people is another thing that should be done with our hearts. We really are in need of musicians as much as we need we are in need of engineers and doctors!


As a citizen of Syria, it make me feel heartbroken when I see what the children in my country are learning right now as they carry weapons and are encouraged to fight rather than to unite with their so-called enemies. In fact, we need to have musicians in Syria at this time and more than any time before. These musicians will aid the new generations to overcome and to emotionally survive the war. Having a great musicians will definitely help those kids to forget the harsh and mentally-taxing scenes of death and murder by teaching them one of the finest arts, music. I am not saying that we need to have the best performers in the world. It is just enough to have some kids who are excited enough to learn to how to make music in order for them to possess a useful and interesting hobby versus possessing the hobby of killing each other over religious or civil differences.


The most important thing about music is that it is very pure and that it can repair and enliven the universal communities of the world. I believe that the power of music will help in publishing peace and love in the world. I believe that it can help remove the pain this world has felt, and can fill hearts and minds with hope and happiness. Music will be able to make this world a beautiful place to live in, and can help the light overcome the darkness. Music is what we need now in order to learn to how to give, live and love without borders.


“Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.” Khalil Gibran


Mariela Shaker

About the Author:

Mariela Shaker was born in Aleppo, Syria. She is senior at Monmouth College studying Music Performance for her second Bachelor degree. She previously graduated from the University of Aleppo and studied Business Administration. Mariela is the concertmaster of Monmouth Chamber Orchestra and a member in Galesburg Symphony Orchestra.

Many Voices and One Vision: For Peace

We are pleased to introduce you once again to Jong Massaquoi and share with you the words of our friend and 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.
Liberia has known the deep pains and losses of internal violence; “The First Liberian Civil War was an internal conflict in Liberia from 1989 until 1996. The conflict killed over 200,000 people.” After a short period, “The Second Liberian Civil War began in 1999 when a rebel group backed by the government of neighboring Guinea, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), emerged in northern Liberia. In early 2003, a second rebel group, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, emerged in the south, and by June–July 2003, Charles Taylor’s government controlled only a third of the country. The capital Monrovia was besieged by LURD, and that group’s shelling of the city resulted in the deaths of many civilians. Thousands of people were displaced from their homes as a result of the conflict.

The Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed by the warring parties on August 18, 2003 marking the political end of the conflict and beginning of the country’s transition to democracy under the National Transitional Government of Liberia which was led by interim President Gyude Bryant until the Liberian general election of 2005.”

As we have learned since our arrival at IIT, many of our fellow international students understand war, and too many fellow US students understand violence in their own cities, including many neighborhoods in Chicago. We would like to see all of us at Illinois Tech as STE{A}M professional who are all peacemakers. We all have common experiences and together we represent the entire IIT story –a set of ideals and goals that we hold deeply, that is, a deep commitment to home and family, the place of our youth, places which we seeks to help through community service and outreach through the professional fields studied at Illinois Tech, to build our communities and neighborhoods – and our countries – with a great history forward.

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.

- the Editors, the IIT Syrian Student Blogز

Summer 2011- the summer after my high school graduation- I found myself back home celebrating my accomplishment with family and friends. At this point I had lived in the U.S for seven years and was looking forward to spending the summer in Liberia and heading back to the U.S to start my college journey at Illinois Institute Of Technology (IIT).

But during those first seven years, I always had one question on my mind. Why was I given an opportunity to come to the U.S. at a time when Liberia was at war (I left Liberia in 2003 and spend some time in Sierra Leone before arriving in the U.S in 2004).


In the midst of all the killings, destruction, lack of education, and use of child soldiers, I was not physically affected. Instead I received the opportunity to start fresh in a new environment- Somerville, Massachusetts. The answer to my question did not arrive until I was on my Delta flight heading back to the U.S.



While in Liberia that summer I hung out with many people. I heard their stories and saw their living conditions. That same summer some friends of mine from the U.S came along with me to Liberia. We were interested in filming a documentary that would share light on the situation in Liberia. Due to funds/ time the documentary was never produced.

After an exciting summer, I was ready to head back to the U.S to start college. On my flight back, the answer to that question (why me?) was made known. I understood that I was somehow chosen to have this amazing opportunity because I am meant to be The Voice for Liberia at IIT. With that in mind, I started my first semester in the fall of 2011. The first couple of weeks were great. I made new friends, was exposed to a new and vibrant city, and for the first time in a long time I was attending a school that had a good amount of other students from the continent of Africa. Within the first few weeks my room became the hub for what could become the African Student Organization (ASO) class of 2015/2016.

The African Student Organization (ASO) was my first step toward being “A Voice” at IIT. During my first semester I interacted with many students and saw that IIT was a place of innovation and a place that valued diversity tremendously. With that in mind I set out to re-introduce the African Student Organization to the IIT community and would become its first President in its new Era.

I went on to serve as President for five straight semesters (elected twice) and with help from many others, I cultivated and re-defined the ASO brand and give it a new vision and mission ( ASO was the start but over the past six semesters I have witnessed the impact and opportunities that IIT has provided for many students here on campus. IIT have worked with the City Colleges of Chicago, and to join programs with other universities in the U.S, the Caribbean and most recently in the initiative to welcome students from Syria, a country that knows all too well the deep the pain and loss of life.

I have learned so much from my peers and colleagues at IIT, indeed our faculty and staff hail from every part of the U.S. and around the globe and in their professional and personal lives; they too have understood our histories, and have supported us as students and in our dreams. Indeed President Anderson’s strategic plan for Illinois Tech shares this theme: Many Voices, One Vision.



So with three more semesters remaining at Illinois Tech, I believe myself once again renewing my commitment and obligation to carry forward this idea of “A Voice for Liberia” forward. How can I learn from the history and traditions of community organizing in Chicago, throughout the U.S. and around the globe to galvanize momentum among the diaspora of Liberians in support of home? I see what strength there is among my peers when their countries and regions are represented in greater numbers at my university, my soon to be alma mater. And I ask, how can we create greater larger cohorts of students from Africa with over a billion people and home to so many young people, and how can we create learning exchanges between Illinois Tech and Liberia, and a movement of students from Liberia to join me at IIT?

I want more of the opportunities that I have enjoyed at this great institution for my country of 4 million.

I know that it doesn’t happen over night and it takes time and countless hours, but I have a dream – a dream that may well take my lifetime but one that I am committed to seeing come through. A dream that will reshape the future of a tiny West African Nation and give it educated and well trained leaders. I have a dream that before I graduate from IIT in Dec. of 2015 we will begin to several new Liberian students here at IIT and many more to follow every year.

This is face of stage two of “being the Voice” and I welcome you to join me.

Jong Massaquoi

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.

Learning from the lessons of history: thoughts on a Syrian reconstruction


As we approach July 2014, few of us expected the war to continue into a fourth year; we had expected the “spring of several years ago” to be different. And while we have no clear understanding of when the war is going to end we must begin to give thought and devote our energies and efforts to the reconstruction projects and how to more equitably share the “resources and opportunities” to come – with all of Syria!

How should we think about the concept of reconstruction? How should we think about the rebuilding of our parks, our homes, our schools, our clinics and hospitals, and how should we think about rebuilding our lives, our memories, our future and our ability to heal.

The idea of reconstruction presents us with hope and the opportunity to correct errors, create jobs and professions, and to live as Syrians once again.

What can we learn from history? The lessons of other countries that had destructive wars, and went toward reconstruction offer a starting point.

For Lebanon, many say that the construction and reconstruction has been at the expense of the rest of Lebanon. The project was launched to reconstruct the downtown Beirut in 1995 after long years of war ended; and while there has been significant progress toward this goal, we have not achieved the breadth of reconstruction, healing and community building across the entire country as seen in the continuing strife throughout Lebanon. I would want Syria to learn from this lesson and adopt a more comprehensive approach.

When we look to the close of World War II, economists and leaders understood that the supplies of European countries in terms of their foreign currency reserves had been taken up in the expenses of the war and there would be an urgent need to secure funding for the necessary requirements of the State. Many of the most thoughtfuland insightful leaders also knew that the “winning powers and armies” had made a grave mistake by not rebuilding broadly and expansively. Indeed, this failure of leadership lead to the fault lines which brought us World War II. As we recognize the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, we should learn these lessons well.

This explains the passage of the U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall in 1948 with a budget of 13 billion dollars to be spent between 1948 -1951 – the largest part of these funds were for reconstruction and removal of trade restrictions and the modernization of industry German and other European industries.

Perhaps once considered a warring country, Germany has returned in the last decade as a global leader in industry leading to higher levels of production and wealth than the pre-war period; thanks in large part to good management and they benefited significantly from funding, and the speed of the reconstruction and the rehabilitation of their abilities and repayment of loans for the benefit of large number of German companies.

Returning to the crisis in Syria, the country has been significantly depleted in terms of foreign reserves and its capacity for significant production in the areas of agriculture, and the delivery of basic human services.

Experience shows that reconstruction projects can only be begin once the war has concluded and that there will be a priority is for relief, food, infrastructure, transportation and education.

I fear that we have forgotten the lessons of World War II; as a global community, we have not come close to anything as imaginative as the “Marhsall Plan” for Liberia, The Sudan, Somalia, and dozens of other countries over the last several decades. Where is our leadership and visionaries? Our humanity?

The fear is always in any reconstruction project in the absence of justice between regions or groups of people would lead us to repeat the Lebanese experience.

The real problem for the development has never been exclusively about the financial resources; these are important, and necessary but they are insufficient for building a sustainable peace, and the realization of the minds.

The harmony needed to reach a compelling vision for the future and its choices about work, wages and the balance between wishes and well-deserved achievements requires us to learn from history in order to build a better future for Syria, and our region. In doing so, we will – now and for decades to come – participate in and contribute to more peaceful days.


The Syrian Phoenix: Within all of us

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 10.12.45 PM

Through-out the human history, giving up has not been the solution for tragedies that faced societies. Passivity and surrendering does not resolve catastrophic conditions nor does it end wars and disasters that threaten the existence of people.

Only those who survived to tell their stories in our present days chose to rise again and fight, chose not to become history by not giving up on the future no matter how far or impossible to reach it seemed.

Today, Syrian people are at the edge of this challenge, millions of refugees living in horrible conditions, tens of billions of dollars worth of destruction and a lost generation without education and hope.

This challenge shall define the future of my country, are we going to be mentioned in history books as a great nation that once existed? Or do we believe in ourselves and in a better future that relies in the unknown and work for it night and day to go back to where we belong among those who write history with their sweat and blood.

I dream that Syria shall become the Phoenix of the third millenium rising from the dust to heights above and beyond our most optimistic dreams. I dream that we can reach a new height where we do not only rebuild everything that has been destroyed in our country in a transformative way, but also rebuild our society and our selves to meet the highest honor of freedom for all. 
I dream that our future will be based on our obligations and responsibilities to be a part of the human race to live in dignity, equality and freedom.
once heard a saying “he who believes that technology enabled human to reach the moon is mistaken, only belief made it possible” and so I believe we shall rise; like a Phoenix we rise.

Majed Abdulsamad

“Hard work will always beat talent.”

We are pleased to introduce and share with you the words of Shane Samuels, a 4th year Architecture student from the island of Antigua, and a fellow classmate at Illinois Tech; as Syrians, Shane represents an IIT story – and a set of ideals and goals that we hold deeply as well, that is, a deep commitment to home and family, the place of his youth, a place which he seeks to help further through community service and outreach through the fields of architecture and entrepreneurship, communities and neighborhoods with a great history.  

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 Shane and so many of our IIT classmates to Syria, to visit their homes, and to learn together through our shared histories, and our lives how we will build – and design – a better tomorrow, for all.

-                 the Editors, the IIT Syrian Student Blog

I have learned many lessons as an architecture student studying at Illinois Tech, but my most profound lesson has always been “Hard work will always beat talent.”

 I learned this lesson from a rather interesting project during my freshman year; I had to make a Barcelona chair using only two sheets of cardboard. That’s right, cardboard. Just when I thought the project couldn’t get any more complicated my professor announced that the chair must successfully support the weight of a person and it must be comfortable to sit in.

 For the longest five minutes of my life I tired to comprehend how Chicago’s cardboard was different from Antigua’s. After those five minutes of bewilderment, I reluctantly returned to earth with the harsh reality that the cardboard I had to use for this assignment shared neither the structural integrity nor stability that I was hoping for.


So it started to build a chair using only 2 sheets of cardboard that will support the weight of a person. Luckily, the assignment turned out to be a group project and I was fortunate to have Kenny Han as my teammate to tackle the extraordinary. 

We built small prototypes to study the curvaceous style and unique design the chair possessed. During the prototype process many thoughts flooded my mind, the most prominent thought was “This is impossible.” 

Other times I buried my potential by allowing myself to think that because I was from a small Island with very little infrastructure and that as a result my creativity would suffer. The majority of my classmates were from Europe and the United States. Most of them travelled the world to see art and architecture. Also, a substantial number of these students had relatives who were architects that provided inspiration and assistance for many of their assignments.

These factors swamped my mind for a few days and made me feel inadequate during the assignment. Nevertheless, after a few days of persistence and long nights, we figured out how to accomplish our challenge. I’ll never forget the Sunday afternoon, that Kenny and I started building the final model of the chair at 2:43pm. We finally finished it at 3:12am Monday morning. I remember walking back to my room that morning. I wasn’t tired, I was actually energized and motivated by the lesson that I didn’t need to be born into a family of architects or be a native of a country with better infrastructure. I didn’t need talent; I simply needed to feed my passion for architecture with hard work.

The talented approach will say “2+2=4;” however, the hard working approach may have to take the journey of “1+1+1+1=4″. Both people arrive at the same answer but with different journeys. The beauty about the hard working approach is the gain of perspective

From within the mundane approach of “1+1+1+1=4″ there’s the hidden perspective that “3+1=4″ also “2×2=4″. I think it’s safe to say we all may have missed the opportunity in remembering how many different ways they are in getting to the answer “4″.

This is the profound lesson architecture has taught me. It’s not about who you are, where you’re from or what careers your relatives have. It’s about fueling your goals and passion with hard work. Yes, the hard work approach is a not an easy road but it’s the most rewarding as each time you succeed you gain new perspectives and fuel your passion.


I’ve currently gained a new perspective from my journey in architecture. My goal is to become an Entrepreneur Architect. I see opportunities where architecture can create businesses and facilitate competitive styles in marketing. Through strategic thinking and unique designs I’m confident my aspirations for this career will be a great contribution to my country’s development. The world is an enormous canvas and I’m eager to be that passionate artist that paints the perfect picture using architecture.

Finally, let me conclude with an expression of gratitude to the IIT Syrian student blog for permitting me to share these thoughts with their audience; a number of my peers within the College of Architecture at Illinois Tech arrived from Syria as a result of the war.  I see in our daily conversations and the work that they have produced – and the awards won – that we share an obligation to our countries and the responsibility and accountability of hard work.  We have been given a terrific opportunity and we are working to make every moment count.  And so, when I leave Crown Hall at 3 am in the morning, I am comforted knowing that my peers from Syria and dozens of other countries are working as well for their dreams – for our dreams.  Teamwork.  Hardwork.

“Hard work will always beat talent”

 Shane Samuels

 About: Shane Samuels is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology; prior to arriving at Illinois Institute of Technology, Shane was a student of the Engineering Construction Department of the Antigua State College, St. John’s, Antiuga. Shane possesses an unquenchable passion for Design and Business.  During Summer 2014, Shane interns at Eastlake Management along side a team of property and construction management professionals that are known for quality service. Shane describes the internship as a blessing and privilege to work with such a team as he gains knowledge and experience in the business aspect of architecture. 



Building our thoughts: This is Why Syria Still Has a Chance.


As the conflict in Syria enters the 4th year now, people – especially children – are still suffering from the horrible crisis in their lives. They are forced to leave their homes, their history, their school and their professions – as well as the memories and lives that had been built over so many years.

Children are suffering the most during this conflict; according to latest UN numbers more than 5.5 million Syrian kids are impacted by the ongoing war. At Jasmine Baladi Studio, an NGO formed shortly after the start of the war, we know that these children are the future of Syria, and by helping them we are building a bright future for Syria. 

We know how important our mission is, and we are working to build the future leaders – and learners – who will be the main foundation to help to bring the country back on its feet. 

I would like to share this photos of the Spring carnival (March 2014) that Jasmine Balaldi Studio supported for hundreds of children; we are grateful for the resilience of the children, the spirit of their parents and families amidst so much hardship and for our supporters whose generosity turns silence into laughter and joy.

Because we know that in the future we would love to remember these moments; we made sure to capture each of our lovely kids while they are having fun with Jasmine Baladi Studio.Image

’’Did you like the coolers in my tower “


                                                         ”Our construction team”


                                                   ”Let me take a photo first”


                                              “So, what’s the project for today” 


                                                      ”Team work spirit”

It would be awesome that some of these students will one day participate in the LEGO: Build a City event scheduled each July at Illinois Institute of Technology and use their imagination for building their own thoughts – and their own cities.


Suhaib Ibrahim
Civil Engineering
Expected graduation date: Dec 2014



P.S. If you are reading this blog post and live in the city of Chicago, I hope that you will join me and my fellow Illinois Tech students on July 12th for the 5th annual Lego: Build a City event which will take place at the historic Crown Hall designed by Mies van de Rohe.  You can learn more about the event and register at the link below:


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