Yasmin Amin’s school in Syria is shaken as bombs are dropped by MiG jets overhead. She runs outside to find two buildings already crushed by the attack and mobs of people lying injured or dead in the streets.
This was the first time she truly feared for her life.
“When I was 17, my teacher told me the bombs went off beside my home” says now 20-year-old Yasmin Amin.
“I was very shocked and worried because of my family,” she says. Knowing that her parents were in the house and her younger brother often played in the streets, Amin rushed home to find that her family had survived.
It was just another day.
Yasmin and her family immigrated to London on Sept. 25, 2015. She is one of 10 to earn the Syrian Refugee student award at Western to help fund her undergraduate degree. The award covers both tuition and living costs and is open by application to Syrian citizens or residents who have been admitted to a Western University degree program.
She has begun classes this September, but it was only a year ago that her life completely changed.
Growing up in Damascus, the capital of Syria, Yasmin and her family were exposed daily to the civil war between President Bashar al-Assad’s government and the rebel forces, known as the Free Syrian Army.
In protest, the streets of Yasmin’s city were filled with people carrying signs, delivering speeches and joining in on chants all in opposition of Syrian government. “Especially on Friday when people finish praying and go out to the mosque, they meet each other in a specific square and they yell against the government,” she recalls.
Yasmin explains that such protests and marches continued every day, with death tolls rising as the Syrian army fought back using guns, weaponries and mortar. “It was really terrible as many bombs would fall down and bury the marchers,” she says. “Even students when they finished school would go out and request improvement in their education.”
By 2013, the fighting moved from the streets to the sky, adding helicopters and MiGs (Russian fighter aircraft) to the mix. Schools were targeted due to their active protests.
Yasmin recalls that each morning an MiG would fly overhead, waking her up and scaring her too much to want to go outside. “I felt that bombs would fall down on my house” says Yasmin. “I couldn’t study for exams or do any homework. Actually, I was studying in the washroom because it was more safe than my room.”
After the boys’ school in her community was bombed, Yasmin had to seek medical attention for episodes of dizziness and a drop in blood pressure.
“In that time I was crying about what had happened because I couldn’t bear this war,” she says. “I was upset and worried about my life… I thought I was going to die.”
In grade 11, Yasmin and her family moved to Lebanon to flee the violence before immigrating to Canada.
She explains that it was difficult to leave her friends and other family members during the civil unrest. "My aunts still live in Syria," she frowns. "They live in a safer country, but only by a little bit."
Yasmin arrived in London with her parents and two brothers with the help of the Cross Cultural Learning Centre. They have since been overwhelmed by the city’s support.
After spending the summer studying at the Western English Language Centre to better her English, Yasmin is now studying biology in hopes of continuing in medical sciences.
“I am so happy to be here,” she says. “Everyone has been so friendly and welcoming,” referring to her CCLC counsellors, English teachers and academic support at Western.
Talking to Yasmin now over a Tim Horton's coffee between classes, she can hardly catch her breath as she rattles off friendships she's made and day trips she's gone on since arriving in London — Canada's Wonderland and Niagara Falls among her favourites.
The trauma from growing up in Syria has made Yasmin more grateful for her education, family and safety. She admits that her experience is part of the reason why she wants to become a doctor: to help people and improve human health.