In this interview we talk to Zena (17 years old), one of four students who completed the Sky School course on ‘Social Entrepreneurship - How to become a Changemaker’ entirely online. Zena is attending school at home in Syria, and shares her experience of the course and some of her hopes for the future.

5 March 2018

We talk to Zena on an early March afternoon. Zena is in her home in Syria, we are in our London office. She greets us enthusiastically, and after some fiddling with Skype’s sound settings both sides are ready to discuss Sky School’s pilot course and Zena’s personal experiences. Being located in Syria, far from our three hubs in Jordan, Kenya and Greece, Zena is one of only four students who completed the pilot short course on the topic of ‘Social Entrepreneurship - How to become a Changemaker’ entirely online.

Zena tells us that she is 17, and that she is currently enrolled in a government school. We are interested to know how Zena feels the ongoing war in Syria has affected her. ‘’Before the crisis started I used to travel a lot, I used to go places, I used to join new things. But that just stopped: because of the war, it was no longer safe to do any of those things.’’ She quickly turns to her education: ‘’In my city we welcomed many internally displaced people from cities where the situation was really unsafe, so the school was a little bit overcrowded. That really affected us. At the same time, there was the war going on, some bombing and shelling… so it affected me psychologically.’’

We ask Zena why she decided to apply to the Sky School short course. ‘’When I was a little girl I used to dream of starting my own business. When I heard about Sky School’s social entrepreneurship course, I got really motivated to apply. Another reason is that the course was not only about being an entrepreneur, it was also about being a changemaker. Being a changemaker is something we need desperately in our society. It’s really an opportunity that I would not miss.’’

‘’Today, nothing is impossible. As long as we have internet we can access anything and learn anything.’’

Zena tells us that her favourite part of the course was studying human centered design: ‘’It was the very first time that I heard of it. I find it crucial when you want to start thinking of a business: starting by thinking of a problem that may need solving in society.’’ Zena adds: ‘’Another thing that was really valuable was sharing my stories with others, and learning about others’ stories. I am Syrian and I live in Syria, but there were some Syrians who were abroad and who have had to leave the country. It was amazing learning about them and  their stories.’’ Zena has a clear sense of purpose, and she wants to make a positive impact on her community. ‘’I think the course gave me more hope and confidence in my ability to make a difference. It also gave me a sense of responsibility, I am the one responsible for making a difference,’’ she says. ‘’The course taught us that young people are strong enough to change their societies and their world.’’

Being one of only a few students who completed the course entirely online, we are incredibly curious to hear more about Zena’s experiences being a Sky School student without having access to a hub. ‘’I did a couple of courses online before the Sky School course,’’ Zena says. ‘’Today, nothing is impossible. As long as we have internet we can access anything and learn anything. There is no school in my country that teaches social entrepreneurship or teaches ‘life skills’. I call them that because social entrepreneurship is not physics, it’s not maths, it’s not English - it’s a life skill. It’s a skill to make money, to connect with others and solve a problem.’’

‘’This curriculum was designed to fit the mindset of a young person living in these circumstances.’’

Having completed the pilot course, we want to know how Zena views  the role that Sky School has to play in refugee education. ‘’What I really like about Sky School is the idea of it being a global high school specifically for refugees and people living in conflict areas. It’s a very new idea, no one ever thought about that, and because of that I was motivated to participate. I wanted to know how the curriculum worked, because I was pretty sure it was unlike any other curriculum. It was designed to fit the mindset of a young person living in these circumstances. So that was very, very motivating for me.’’

Zena also has ideas for the further development of the curriculum, saying ‘’what is important to include is computer science classes. You can be a programmer and you can make money right away: you can work from your home, and do projects wherever and whenever you want.’’

‘’I believe that the psychological and mental damage caused by the war is greater than the physical or financial damage.’’

Zena’s passion for education is evident from speaking with her. As the interview draws to a close, we ask Zena about her hopes and plans for her own future. She says: ‘’My plans changed after the war started. Now I am aiming to study psychology, hopefully at a university abroad, to provide mental health services for young people like myself who have lived through war circumstances. I believe that the psychological and mental damage caused by the war is greater than the physical damage or the financial damage. I have observed that many young people have given up on their dreams, or lost hope for a better future. I want to change this, and impact positively on their lives.’’

We believe that creating a curriculum specifically designed for refugee youth and youth affected by conflict is only possible when the experiences of learners like Zena are incorporated in each phase of development. Zena, one of the first Sky School students ever, truly embodies the belief that young people affected by conflict are tomorrow’s changemakers, rebuilders and innovators.

While Sky School’s focus is currently on delivering learning through a blended learning model, we are keen to find ways for students like Zena who are living in areas outside of our learning hubs to take part in courses, and will be exploring more online-only possibilities for courses in the future.