From left: Brendan Meeker, Maria Viera-Williams, Anas Attal, Molly Miller and JWAC President Joseph Hill

Anas Attal spoke to students at Lake Highlands High School yesterday, sharing memories of Damascus and the history of the conflict in Syria. Attal, a 2008 immigrant with Syrian roots, was the guest of LHHS’ newest student-led organization, the Junior World Affairs Council.

Attal began by reminding students of their good fortune to live in a land of freedom and opportunity.

“You don’t have to go out of your way to get it,” he said. “It just comes to you.”

Attal showed students photos of tree-lined streets with umbrella-topped cafes, declining to share updated pics of today’s war-torn Damascus.

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“They are a humble and a social people,” he told students. “It’s sad to see the destruction that has happened to the city.”

Attal explained ISIS’ destruction of art and antiquities in the ancient city of Palmyra in 2015.

“Things that do not mean anything to them,” he said. “They sold some, they destroyed some, they drew graffiti on some.”

Outside countries have gotten involved in the conflict over the years for their own reasons, making matters even more complicated, he said.

“There are so many layers to it, it’s like lasagna. The U.S., Russia, Iran – but we all agree on one thing: ISIS is not welcome.”

One of 122 people in the world is a refugee, and 11 million Syrians have been displaced and need aid. Half of these are children. One in three Syrian children were born in the last 5 years of war, including 300,000 kids born as refugees. Before the war, school enrollment and literacy rates were near 100 percent. Now, half of all elementary-age kids are no longer in school.

“When you lose your home, you lose everything,” added Attal. “It makes you vulnerable to human trafficking.”

About 100 students sat in rapt attention, and many asked thoughtful questions following Attal’s presentation. Americans wishing to help may reach out to the Syrian American Medical Society or the United Nations Refugee Agency, he said.

On Oct. 25 at 4:15 p.m., Tatiana Androsov will speak to the group on “The United Nations, Human Rights and Conflicts in the World.” Admission is free and all are invited. The JWAC meets in the LHHS library.