Najwa Sufi

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Syrian Histories,
Original Interview Length:
Interview Location: Turkey
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"My situation continued until I traveled to Saudi Arabia to improve my financial situation and buy a house to live in with my daughter."

Najwa Sufi was born in 1944 in Al-Anazah village located between Banyas and Tartous on the Syrian coast. She moved between several towns and cities due to the nature of her father's work in the police force and later with the electricity company.

Najwa grew up in the Mar Takla neighborhood in Lattakia, an ancient neighborhood with a predominantly Sunni population and Alawite and Christian minorities.

Najwa remembers her childhood when she used to visit traditional teachers [al-Kettab] to learn the Qur'an, and to read and write. Parents used to pay the teacher a sum of money every other Thursday in return for the children's education; this was called "khamisiyya".

Najwa studied at Jableh and Lattakia schools, and was the last generation to receive the certificate awarded after the completion of fifth grade. This was later replaced by the primary stage completion certificate, which was awarded after sixth grade. She says that interest in education, especially for females, increased over the years. “Young girls entered various university branches that had been exclusive to men, and proved themselves to be highly competent, taking leadership positions in the People's Assembly, local administrations and ministries. Nevertheless, men monopolized leadership positions. The prevailing laws in Syria still discriminated against women, even with regard to marriage, divorce and child custody.”

Najwa studied at the Girls' Secondary School in Lattakia that was later renamed as the Baath Secondary School. "At that time we had just started to become close to Alawite students, and we were all treated equally by the school staff, without any distinction. The female teachers were highly qualified. I remember among them the Arabic language schoolteacher Da'ad Jamal, who was the sister of the well-known martyr Jules Jamal."

Najwa finished high school and started teaching in a school on the edge of the Mar Taqla neighborhood in 1965. At that time, her salary was 220 Syrian pounds. The Directorate of Education used to assign male and female teachers to various training courses throughout their years of work in fields such as Arabic language, mathematics, administration etc.

In 1979, Najwa attended a training course in modern mathematics led by a Russian language teacher who was accompanied by an interpreter. In one of the training workshops on management, Najwa ranked second in Lattakia province. She was rewarded and appointed as a school principal. She worked in her new position for one year and then traveled and worked as an educational counselor in Saudi Arabia.

Najwa says that the dominant stereotype of a school principal was that of someone who represented authority and influence at school. There were always students whose parents were influential and who were usually given preferable treatment on the orders of the school principal. These children were usually given additional marks and their mistakes were ignored in order that they surpassed their classmates. This occurred despite these students not complying with school rules and regulations.

Najwa's husband died shortly after their marriage, leaving her with an eight-month-old daughter. Najwa felt the importance of her work, which meant that she did not have to ask help from others despite the modesty of her salary. When Najwa met President Hafez al-Assad during a visit of the Lattakia teachers union to the presidential palace, she took the opportunity to ask him to examine her difficult living conditions. “In 1979, I went with a delegation of the teachers union to visit President Hafez al-Assad at the Salam Tower Palace. We were searched and had to change cars repeatedly en route. After the brief interview, which took place during filming sessions, I submitted to the president a paper explaining my living conditions and my monthly compensation for my deceased husband, who had been a government employee. The president put the paper into his pocket. I felt happy and hopeful that I had brought my complaint directly to the Head of State but nothing changed and he did not respond to my request. My situation continued until I traveled to Saudi Arabia to improve my financial situation and buy a house to live in with my daughter.

During her long career in education, Najwa noticed a significant increase in the number of schools both during the reign of President Hafez al-Assad and after the year 2000 under Bashar al-Assad. The number of colleges and majors in Tishreen University in Lattakia increased as well. In relation to this, she says, “The number of Tishreen University students coming from other areas increased and tourism expanded in Lattakia, especially in the facilities on the coast. Prices, however, remained high and disproportionate to employees' salaries.”

She ends by saying, “When Bashar al-Assad took power we had high expectations. We heard that he had distributed computers to the students who had been most successful in the high school preparatory diplomas at the beginning of his term in office. We expected this step to be followed by others to support brilliant students but we saw nothing of this. Things remained as they were, the way everyone knew them.”