Ramzya Sarhan was born in 1969 in Damascus, where she spent her childhood. She then moved to Jabal al-Zawiya in Idlib Governorate as her father was in the police force and received a posting there. She remained in Jabal al-Zawiya until she graduated from high school.
Ramzya says that she enjoyed her childhood and made beautiful memories with her nine sisters. As a girl, she didn’t notice any difference in her parents’ treatment of boys and girls. She used to participate in student activities such as sports and arts, and her parents never disapproved of that. “My family cared about the education of both boys and girls, so my parents encouraged me and my sisters to pursue our educations. We all obtained university degrees or at least high school diplomas.”
Ramzya’s family had no strong social relationships with the people of Idlib, perhaps because her mother was busy looking after her many children and helping with their homework. Ramzya says that, unlike rural people, the people of Idlib didn’t really care about educating their children. Young men usually got married after learning a trade and completing their compulsory military service, whereas in rural areas people were more focused on education.
Ramzya obtained her high school diploma, but her grades weren’t high enough to get into college. So, in 1988, encouraged by her uncle who was studying on the translation program at the same university, she enrolled in a Lebanese university to study international law. However, she couldn’t pursue her education because her uncle traveled to Saudi Arabia, and she couldn’t travel to Lebanon alone to take the exams.
Ramzya tried to repeat her high school exams, but unfortunately contracted typhoid fever and couldn’t complete them. Instead, she tried to organize and participate in various activities. Then, she got a teaching secondment - a system that allows teachers to teach for one year with the possibility of renewing their contract every academic year. “I taught for one year only, but it was one of the richest and most beautiful experiences in my life,” she says. “I was a teacher in a mountain village in the Idlib countryside. I noticed that the village, although geographically not very far from the city of Idlib, suffered from ignorance and difficult living conditions.”
In 1992, Ramzya got married to her cousin, as was the tradition. “From time to time, the thought of pursuing my education crossed my mind,” she says. “However, after I got pregnant with my first daughter, the feeling of motherhood took over me, and the main goal I wanted to accomplish was raising and taking care of my daughter.”
She adds, “My daughter was born in October 1993 on a beautiful snowy day. It had been only one month since I moved from Damascus to the village of Ihsim in Jabal al-Zawiya. My daughter’s birth made me feel like I had also been born again.”
Ramzya stayed in the village for about 5 years, during which time she gave birth to her second daughter and her son. Then, she went back to Damascus due to her husband’s working commitments. At that time, she reconsidered pursuing her education. She told her husband of her desire to go to college, and he encouraged her to do so. Consequently, she enrolled in the Faculty of Journalism at Damascus University under the system of open learning.
Ramzya’s life changed after entering the university. She became better at managing her time and dividing it between studying, doing homework and taking care of the kids and family. She was happy with this new lifestyle as it made her life more dynamic. “I had been embarrassed about being a married university student and a mother of three, but I met women at the university who were older than me. This encouraged and motivated me to continue studying. However, during my senior year, I got bored, especially after I realized that what we were studying in the textbooks could never be applied in a country that lacked freedom of expression. So, my only goal was to graduate. I even paid one of the teachers to give me a passing grade on the English language course.”
Ramzya graduated in 2005. After a while, she started to participate in some civil society activities. She attended training sessions on modern teaching methods and new curricula run by the Ministry of Education. She then started training groups of students in her house based this training. “There was a significant deficit in the teaching system,” she says. “Although I wasn’t an experienced teacher, I was more successful in my work than professional teachers. I taught a group of 35 male and female elementary students. Around 20 of them got an A grade in mathematics, and surpassed all the students at the school in other subjects as well.”