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Marco Werman: Shes in New York, theyre in Libya. Im talking about Haifa El-Zahawi and her students. Zahawi, a Libyan, moved to New York to study dentistry. She graduated, and these days, is job hunting. But on the side shes also set up a school for kids back home in her country. Because of the chaotic security situation, the Libyan schools there have been closed for months on end. So, Zahawi thought “If kids cant go to school, why not bring the classroom to them?” And the Benghazi Skype School was born.
Haifa El-Zahawi: We started giving free online classes through Skype. As you know, its not safe to go out for the kids. But they still have an internet connection, even though its not really the best. But I posted a status on Facebook asking a Libyans to help and I got a really huge and positive response, and a lot of people had a desire to work and help me. So we started with a personal account on Skype. After a week, we got sponsored by an IT company located in Tripoli, Libyan Spider. Now we have a website and our learning program was loaded on it. We also record the online classes and we publish it on social media or Youtube. Its much easier for the student to get the lessons whenever they can.
Werman: So, youre in New York. If youre teaching mathematics for example, do you have a math teacher who sits in front of the camera in New York and then the kids in Benghazi see that and thats their lesson?
El-Zahawi: Yes. We try to make it live as much as you can, but we have problems with the connection not being so good; electricity is another problem. So, we try to record the lessons.
Werman: Tell me about one of the students, maybe someone you have gotten to know a little bit. How eager are they to be learning right now?
El-Zahawi: You can see their pictures on our social media account. I feel like the Benghazi school gives hope to people, and they really need at this time-especially kids.
Werman: Is the situation in Benghazi right now so bad that kids are not venturing out of their houses to go to school?
El-Zahawi: Yes, theyre not able to go out to go back to school. Its not safe to go out.
Werman: Where do they go to sit in front of the computer and engage with the teachers on Skype?
El-Zahawi: From their homes.
Werman: I see. So everybody who has a computer can participate in this?
El-Zahawi: Yes, exactly.
Werman: Are you at all worried about ISIS-linked extremists in Libya who have a big problem with education, they have a big problem with the sciences, and especially girls getting educated?
El-Zahawi: Yes, thats true. This is the time to act on our rights to educate our kids. Only by learning can we fight.
Werman: You have family back in Libya. What are you hearing from them?
El-Zahawi: My family is trying to be calm when they call me, but I know the situation is really bad.
Werman: Do you think the Benghazi Skype School--I know its important to have kids educated--but what role do you think this Skype school can play in the future of Libya?
El-Zahawi: Its a channel where all of Libya can come to communicate and interact away from any religious views, away from any political views. The basic aim of the Benghazi Skype School is to help people and to incorporate Libyans who have a desire to work to build the country.
Werman: Haifa El-Zahawi set up the Benghazi Skype School. Thank you very much for speaking with us today and good luck in the future.
El-Zahawi: Thank you.