We’ve just finished interviewing Layla, a Syrian Paper Airplanes former student and volunteer. As we prepare to leave the meeting, my supervisor, Ms. Yasmeen, makes an almost offhand remark: “You know, as someone working in the humanitarian field, hearing about people like Layla is what keeps me going.” For some reason, this sticks with me. I think that as humans, we are inherently drawn to the idea of hope. The idea that no matter how bad things get, we’ll always be able to find a way out. And Layla’s story is one that is full of hope.
After she finished high school in 2014, Layla lost everything. Her parents were separated and her family was displaced, becoming essentially homeless. With no source of income, Layla took responsibility and started work at a community center to support her family and her higher education. After volunteering and working as an activities coordinator at a community center, she was promoted to project manager associate and then, she moved to the financial department, and finally to project coordinator working on ventures funded by names like the UNFPA and UNICEF.
Aside from volunteering and pursuing Economics at university, Layla has been upskilling through platforms such as Paper Airplanes. After finding out about PA through Facebook, she applied and was accepted into the business analytics class. Here she was able to truly engage with the subject. Rather than just learning math concepts and studying for tests as she had been doing at university, her PA class used real-world examples and end-of-term projects to implement business analytics concepts. This strong foundation helped her find a job where she takes surveys and collects, cleans, and analyzes data.
Former Student and Workshop Coordinator for Paper Airplanes, Layla
As we interview her, Layla passionately explains the issues with education in her country. Courses in Syria are both limited and expensive. Transportation to and from courses is another issue for people who manage to get access to them. Syrian youth are trapped in a sense; Though ambitious, they have few opportunities available to upskill. Rising inflation makes life difficult too. Layla emphasizes the role of free organizations like Paper Airplanes in bringing education and skill development opportunities to the youth of her country.
This is not to say that Layla isn’t a human like the rest of us! To our great shock, she grins as she lists How I Met Your Mother, How to Get Away with Murder, and The Big Bang Theory as ranking among her favorite titles. In her free time, Layla likes to chat with her friends, or simply go out to a cafe! She wants to complete her master’s in a humanitarian field such as peacebuilding.
So how did Layla, in the span of a few years, go from being homeless to a successful university graduate working on UNICEF-funded projects? Perhaps it’s her work ethic or her intelligence. I have no doubt that these were major contributing factors, but I think there is a more pervading reason: hope. The same hope that prompts her to volunteer to help adolescents out of poverty, the same hope that prompts her to push her friends to try upskilling as well; She has an unfaltering belief that she can make a better future for herself and her country. This is evident throughout our interview. She is completely open to our questions, hoping that her story will inspire other conflict-affected individuals to rise from the ashes and make better lives for themselve.
About the author:
My name is Moazzam, and I am from Lahore, Pakistan and am currently in my junior year of high school. At Paper Airplanes, I write pieces for the blog. In my free time, I love robotics, reading, listening to music, playing sports, and spending time with my family.
The views and opinions represented in this post belong solely to the author of the blog post, and are not representative of the views and policies of Paper Airplanes and its staff members.