Belfast Telegraph

Star Lisburn pupil is fulfilling his dreams after fleeing war-torn Syria

By Laura Abernethy

Syrian Ihsan Baleed catches glimpses of his native city when he watches the news from his new home in Lisburn.

The 19-year-old fled Aleppo with his family two years ago as the civil war made life increasingly difficult and dangerous.

He arrived with limited English, but with the help and support of Wallace High School in Lisburn, Ihsan was awarded two A*s and a B in his A-levels last week.

The teenager is now excitedly preparing to start a degree in computer science at Queen's University.

Ihsan grew up in the Middle East with his dentist father Mohamad Mahfoz, his mother Abir and three younger siblings. He said: "Before the war, it was normal. I went to school every day, I did my homework and played with friends. It was like the life of any student, but then everything changed."

After the war broke out in 2011 Ihsan could only watch as the city where he was born began to crumble and the streets where he had played happily as a child were littered with debris.

"After the war started it was dangerous and I had to stop school."

His mother had links to Northern Ireland and as fighting intensified the family decided to flee Aleppo.

Ihsan, his two sisters Salam (18) and Nadin (6) and his brother Hamza (13) travelled through Turkey before making the journey to Belfast in July 2013 to meet their mother, who had left a few weeks earlier.

Ihsan's grandmother was born in Belfast so the family were able to secure Irish passports. His father joined them a few months later when he had secured a visa.

After settling in a house in Lisburn, Ihsan was able to get back to the classroom for the first time in over a year.

But as English was not his first language, life in a local school took some adjustment.

"In the beginning I had to translate everything and sometimes that was difficult because when the teacher is explaining, there's not enough time to translate a word from English to Arabic. I had to keep up and after a while I got used to it."

The school provided extra English lessons and tuition to help him achieve his dream of going to Queen's.

He said: "My mother had always planned that I should study at Queen's because it's a good university, and my grandfather studied there 50 years ago."

Ihsan and his family have built a new life here but he still thinks of the people left behind. According to the UN, more than 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the conflict.

"Many of my dear friends are still there," he said. "I don't think I'll ever go back to live in Syria. I'm happy here now."

Belfast Telegraph


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