After months of excitement, anticipation, and a journey of over 6,000 miles from Salamiyah, Syria, Nuha Alaizouki and Wassim Alhammwy are finally able to call the Aga Khan Academy in Maputo, Mozambique their new home.

With over 35 years of combined teaching experience in the fields of Arabic language and physical health education, the arrival of Nuha and Wassim and their two children — who now also study at the Academy — brings AKA Maputo one step closer to launching their International Talent Identification Programme, an initiative to provide exceptional students from unique geographical locations access to quality education, regardless of their ability to pay. 

In the upcoming academic year, four students from Syria are expected to attend the Academy. The students will come from different cities including Salamiyah and Damascus, having been selected from a pool of over 800 applicants. In addition, the Academy is anticipating the arrival of an additional group from Iran, supported by a Persian language teacher. Uniquely, the support of over 100 volunteers on the ground and internationally has ensured that opportunities to study at the Academy are made available to students across the country.

Wassim will act as a physical health education teacher at the Academy while Nuha’s role as an Arabic language teacher will ensure these students retain a firm grasp of their mother tongue — an essential skill if these students intend on returning home to enter positions of leadership in Syria, following their studies. Importantly, Nuha will also provide pastoral care for these students in her role as a “dorm parent” and provide the students with a familiar cultural link to their home country.

For Nuha and Wassim’s family, the future arrival of Syrian students excites them and they are eager to welcome more people from their community. Together, they are excited about their family’s future at the Academy and the various opportunities for growth they will encounter during their time there, including developing their skills further through the Academies’ award-winning Professional Development Centre. 

Speaking of their collective passion for teaching, Wassim said, “We truly believe that teaching is a sublime humanitarian mission. It is a process between inspiration and implementation, and through teaching, there is a great deal of love, caring, and appreciation.”  

Their two-year journey to arrive at the Academy has not been without its challenges, however. Border closures between Syria and Lebanon due to political unrest, the Covid-19 pandemic, the inability of Syrians to travel to the United Arab Emirates, amongst other challenges have all delayed the arrival of the family at the Academy. 

Fortunately, they have benefitted from the support of numerous individuals and organisations who facilitated their journey across continents.

“A lot of people worked hard to ensure our family could move from Syria to Mozambique,” Wassim said. “In particular, we would like to thank the organising team at the Ismaili Council for Syria, who worked alongside the Aga Khan Academies staff, with invaluable support from the Aga Khan Development Network’s diplomatic offices in Mozambique. Additionally, we are also thankful for the role that the Aga Khan Foundation in Syria played during the last few weeks before travelling, ensuring a safe and worry-free journey for our family.” 

Upon arriving in Maputo, the family were warmly welcomed by staff. The family were able to hit the ground running — as, in line with local Mozambican government guidelines, the school is currently fully operational for all day students, with residential students continuing their studies through the Academy’s highly-successful online learning platform. 

“All of the people here in the Academy are very welcoming, friendly, and supportive. The campus is simply amazing - very beautiful and well-organised,” said Nuha. 

The Aga Khan Academy Maputo’s Head of Academy, Michael Spencer, looks forward to the arrival of students from Syria, whom he was able to personally assess and interact with. The opportunity to study in Maputo will not only expose them to the International Baccalaureate (IB) but also to the unique elements of the Academies’ curriculum, particularly the Aga Khan Strands - areas of learning aimed specifically at developing knowledge, skills, and attitudes required by future leaders. At their new home, they will also experience first-hand the unique culture of Maputo and interact with students from all over the world. 

“Every time I see Nuha and Wassim and their children on the campus, I am reminded of their resilience, determination, and commitment to be a part of the Aga Khan Academy Maputo,” said Mr Spencer. “Already, they have brought such positive energy to our community. It makes me realise, too, that the Academy is a part of a much bigger entity, and that the Aga Khan Development Network has mobilised so many people and resources to make this programme possible,” he added. 

The whole Academies community is excited to witness this major step in making the International Talent Identification programme a reality in Mozambique and looks forward to following its progress over the coming months.