Elham Mahfod was born in al-Silmiya city in Hama Governorate in 1948. Her father, Khodr Mahfod, was a revolutionary who took part in the Great Syrian Revolt in 1925 and was exiled to Iraq. He also participated in the Palestinian revolution led by Fawzi al-Qawuqji in 1936 and wrote a book in Arabic titled “Under the Banner of al-Qawuqjji”. Moreover, he participated in the 1941 Iraqi coup d’état led by Rashid Ali al-Gaylani. He eventually returned to Syria and worked in al-Silmiya as a teacher then as a school principal.
Elham was a high school student in the 1960s when a new class called “Political Community” was introduced in school. She didn’t understand the concepts discussed in that class, which were related to the theories and principles of the Ba’ath Party. She says, “In the Military Education exam, my brother happened to be the assistant coach, so I told him not to ask me about the Ba’ath Party because I didn’t understand anything about it. I preferred that he ask me questions about Palestine, Algeria, or Vietnam, but instead he asked me about the missions of the Ba’ath Party. I answered that the party’s aim was to seize power, so he got mad at me and asked me to leave.”
Elham notes that the percentage of female student her age in the schools of al-Silmiya was high. Most elementary school teachers were from Hama city, while most middle and high school teachers were from al-Silmiya or other regions such as Damascus.
Elham obtained her high school diploma and tried to get into the teacher training institute, but was not accepted. So, she taught by secondment for 7 years until she became a regular employee in 1970 in a school in Azaz, in Aleppo’s countryside, where which she worked for 2 years. She then moved to al-Tabqa city in al-Raqqa Governorate to teach there.
In al-Tabqa, Elham recalls that the number of students was high, reaching more than 40 students in one class. There was a significant number of children in the city, which was essentially built to accommodate the employees of the Euphrates dam project and power plant. There were no elderly people in the city because those who had reached retirement age had to leave their jobs and hand over their houses to the government.
Teachers had to engage students in activities and teach them chants promoting the Ba’ath Vanguards Organization of the ruling Ba’ath Party. Elham didn’t like the activities suggested in the booklets, so she would try to spend class time engaging the students in games and athletics competitions.
“The students of al-Tabqa were just like its society - diverse and from different Syrian regions,” she says. “Most Christian students attended Islamic Religion classes so that they could benefit by improving their Arabic language.”
She adds, “The diversity of society in al-Tabqa affected all its inhabitants, including us. We influenced each other in many ways, such as in traditions and new foods. We were all strangers to the new city, and that’s why we lived like a family, cooperating with each other and joining hands in all circumstances.”
Elham resigned after 30 years of teaching, but she was able to stay in her house in al-Tabqa for one extra year thanks to a decision that allowed employees to buy the houses they lived in in installments. “When we moved back to al-Silmiya, I felt like a stranger although it was my city and I had good relationships with friends and family there. However, my children and I longed to go back to al-Tabqa as we had become used to the lifestyle there.”