Shine

Shine

Photo from Sean Ross

Michaela Towfighi and Houdah Daniels

At the final celebration on April 1, the Support and Help in Education (SHINE) students showcased the projects they have been working on that focus on the theme of “Who am I? Who are we? Who are they?” Using the theme, students explored their own identity and how it relates to societal expectations.

The SHINE organization has existed since 1999 and is a charity that reaches out to independent schools to encourage and fund programs, ideally having the school fund itself after a certain number of years. MS Principal Pete Lutkoski and former MS, after school and activities coordinator, Diana Adamson co-founded the SHINE program at ASL in 2009, where local London or Westminster and Brent secondary school students connect through various activities and new experiences such as photography, film making, dance, programming, journalism and creative writing. After Adamson moved abroad, Lutkoski coordinated for one year by himself before MS Grade 8 Science Teacher/Head of Department Belle Hayward and Assistant Director of Teaching and Learning Jennifer Kirstein took over and now currently Grade 7 Aide Sean Ross and Grade 4 Assistant Teacher Miranda Begley.

Ross and Begley recruit ASL students and staff to help teach workshops to the SHINE students every Saturday for 14 – 18 weeks, this year’s from November 5 until April 1. There also includes a leadership program, which invites students, who have already participated in the main program, to return and contribute through a leadership training program that runs over several of the 14 – 18 weeks.

After meeting MS English Teacher Darnell Fine whilst doing her masters in creative writing at City University, Aida Al-Sibai first became involved with SHINE in November 2016, solely as an introduction to observe and experience the program. However, after instantly feeling “connected with the children”, Al-Sibai frequented SHINE and is now one of the mentors.

Al-Sibai felt a strong connection to many of the students who attend SHINE due to her Syrian background. While born and raised in the U.K., Al-Sibai and her family are of Syrian descent. When Al-Sibai was young, she had fond memories of returning to Syria for her summer holidays, where she felt most at home, “no matter what, I could never be English because I was obviously different, so when I’d go back to Syria at least I would feel that kind of relative identity in that I felt like this was home,” she said.

The Syria Al-Sibai knew back then, pre-crisis Syria, was a “very safe” place where children could play out in the streets with no worries. After seeing and reading about the devastation happening in Syria, Al-Sibai sought many ways to aid refugees and connect with those in need but “[hadn’t] been given the opportunity to meet such people” until Fine introduced her to SHINE. “It was a great way for me to help and give back,” she said.

Al-Sibai, World Languages and Cultures Teacher Ruth McDonough and others held English lessons for SHINE student who predominantly spoke Arabic. “I feel like if I can make a small change or a small positive step in one person’s life per week, then that’s an achievement for me,” Al-Sibai said.

Outside of SHINE, Al-Sibai is working on a novel to help others understand the crisis at hand in Syria. “I wanted to use my writing skills to produce a novel that would explain the situation in Syria and raise awareness, but also make it accessible and readable,” she said.

Using her own experiences, those of her family, friends and separate other interviews, Al-Sibai has a compilation of experiences to share throughout her story. Through a female protagonist, Al-Sibai tells the journey of the revolution, the struggle of leaving Syria and the process of migrating into a new country. Specifically focusing on the notion of home and displacement, she hopes her character will resonate with others and make the topic more comprehensible.

With the present unrest, Al-Sibai and her family have yet to return since the beginning of the civil war, and rather are seeing the consequences from afar. “I’m one of the very lucky ones,” she said. “We still have our home, we still have everything that we had because we were living in the U.K. from the beginning.”

Currently, Al-Sibai believes the Syrian crisis is somewhat covered throughout the media, though people lack an empathy for those affected. “[In the media] it is kind of brushed up on or it’s not really given much emphasis,” she said. “I want people to tap into that and really get a firsthand account of somebody living through the revolution.”
Helping others is something Al-Sibai has always had within her, a personal drive. When she was at university, she was very much involved in student activism and humanitarian causes. Al-Sibai even did therapeutic counseling and hypnotherapy in her free time because she felt it would be nice to gain skills and she believes that people should not limit themselves. “It’s not [necessarily] about changing or helping a million people…  if you can just help one person, that’s enough.”