'Education is the weapon of every girl.'
Maisa Al-Hariri fled Syria with her family before arriving in Ireland in December 2016. She is now studying commerce in UCD.
Maisa Al-Hariri in University College Dublin, where she is studying commerce
© Svenja von Reuss/UNHCR
“My mum believed that it is the right of every person to live up to their full potential” says Maisa Al-Hariri. “Education, she said, was the weapon of every girl.”
Maisa’s dream was to study business. However, the war in Syria interrupted her plans, and the family fled home, paying a smuggler to take them to Greece in March 2016.
“Everything was so sudden. I didn’t feel ready for it and I was afraid. But we packed what we had and travelled to the border where we stayed that night. It was raining, cold and dark. We were about 45 people who finally got on the raft. It was not even a boat, just a raft, maybe seven meters long. The driver was also one of us, not someone who really knew what to do. No one knew how it would end. We all were told to sit in different corners of the raft so it would not get out of balance and we were not allowed to move during the whole time. I could not see my sisters or my mum. We all had prayers in our minds that we would reach the shore safely. Whenever I looked up I only saw dark sky and dark water around me. I used to close my eyes and open them again, hoping to see land. It felt like this journey would never end. Water got into the raft on the side where my mum was sitting. It took us around three hours to reach solid ground and when we did, tears were in my eyes and I didn’t know if they were happiness to be still alive or sadness, as we left everything behind. During the journey I thought that we lost my mom as she was in a really bad health. I felt like a child until the moment we got on to the raft."
Once we reached Greece that was the moment when I felt that life is not easy. I realized what a person has to go through to survive and to live.
After nine months in Greece, Maisa arrived in Ireland in December 2016 on the EU relocation scheme.
“It was so unreal and everything was new. But it was winter and at 4 in the afternoon it already got dark. I was like “oh no, where did we come? It looks like we are cut down from the world here. But the people here were so welcoming. I started to get to know more and more people and step by step they advised me on what I could do, how to study and so on. Luckily there are some opportunities for refugees my age to study at colleges.”
With the help of volunteers, she applied to go to University College Dublin (UCD) to study commerce.
“The first time I saw UCD I was really impressed, it looked so great, I couldn’t believe that I might study there. I met the head of the business section and the international office. The first day I went to UCD I got lost and I was so devastated, but again people helped me. I felt so excited, having all those new books and everything you need when you study, I felt like a kid again and I felt my heart going back many years.”
Maisa received over 70% in all her courses this year and hopes to complete a master’s degree once she graduates.
“I hope every refugee here in Ireland will get an opportunity like I got. Putting stones in the path of anyone is not good. I look forward to what I can do. I want to travel the world and see so much more than what I was able to see already.”