The Heller School for Social Policy and Management

Abeer Pamuk, MA COEX'20 (Syria)

Abeer Pamuk
Abeer Pamuk, MA COEX'20

Sidney Topol Fellow in Nonviolence Practice

Born and raised by a single mother in Aleppo, Syria, Abeer Pamuk’s dream was to study English Literature at the University of Aleppo. She had just finished her first year at University when war broke out in Syria. Eventually, the situation grew so tenuous that Pamuk’s mother told her to pack her bags—she was moving to Lebanon to live with an aunt until things improved.

“I never expected that war would be my life,” she says. “My flight was among the last to leave.”

A few months later in Lebanon, Pamuk received word that the University of Aleppo had been bombed, and that she had lost four friends. Skimming through photos of the bombing was traumatic, but the event compelled her to return to Syria.

“When I returned to Syria, I was looking for jobs with humanitarian agencies and came across the emergency relief program for SOS Children’s Villages,” says Pamuk. She went on to work with the organization for almost three years as a field officer and then as external communications advisor.

“In my role as communications advisor I went behind the front lines to interview families. I often got yelled at, but it was important,” says Pamuk.

Life for young people in Syria, says Pamuk, “is like someone set the room on fire and locked the door. And as a young person, you have no tools, education or experience to help put it out.” With this thought in mind, Pamuk chose to pursue higher education and applied for the extremely competitive Atlas Corps Fellowship for nonprofit leaders. While in the United States on her fellowship, she learned about Heller’s master’s degree in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence (COEX) and decided to apply.

“I had no idea the field of coexistence and peacebuilding existed. I found it through a simple Google search, that the Heller School was among the top 10 schools of social policy in the United States. And when I spoke about it to a few people in New York and they all praised Heller, I decided to apply.”  

At Heller, Pamuk was not only admitted to the COEX program but also offered the Sidney Topol Fellowship in Nonviolence Practice. “The scholarship means the school did everything they could to ensure I attend and for an international student like me, that means a lot.”

After Heller, Pamuk hopes to return to Syria one day, where she can be part of the peace process. She says, "I personally refuse to see myself as a victim in the Syrian war. I cannot erase it from my memory but maybe I can erase it from the memory of future Syrians. I want to have control over the future in Syria. I do not want all these scenes and sounds that I have in my head to be a part of the lives of young people in Syria in the future.”