Columbia student from Syria loses nieces, sister-in-law in earthquake
A 28-year-old Syrian student at Columbia University lost his two young nieces and their mom in the devastating earthquake that has claimed at least 11,000 lives in his country and neighboring Turkey.
Hussein Akoush, a student at the Ivy League school in Manhattan since 2021, told The Daily Beast that he was sent into a “panic” when a friend texted him about “massive destruction” in his hometown of Al-Atarib in northwestern Aleppo.
“I saw the magnitude of the earthquake was 7.8. At this point, I realized it was huge,” he told the outlet.
“I had to check in on my family in Syria. So I sent messages to all my sisters and my brother, but none of them received my messages,” said Akoush, who moved to Turkey in 2016 and then to the Big Apple in 2021 to study neuroscience.
He finally heard from his uncle, who said, “‘Don’t worry, we’re fine, your mother and your sister are well,” Akoush told The Daily Beast.
“‘Your brother’s building collapsed but we managed to take him out of the ruins. But we know nothing about his wife and two daughters,’” he said his uncle told him.
Eventually, he learned that his nieces — 6-year-old Sedra and 5-year-old Maria — and their mom Fatima perished in the disaster.
“With a heavy heart and profound grief, I announce the passing away of my two nieces and their mother in last night’s earthquake,” Akoush said on Twitter.
“So, my brother lost his wife and his two daughters,” he told The Daily Beast, adding that his brother has undergone surgery for a broken arm.
“It was a terrible night… I was not able to sleep,” he said.
In a GoFundMe page from 2020, Akoush wrote that “before the Syrian revolution began, I was a hardworking student. I used to be top of my class but I was obliged to drop out of the School of Dentistry at Aleppo University in 2012 for fear of arrest by the Syrian Government due its violent response to the peaceful protests on campus.
“During the war, I dedicated myself to peaceful activism against the brutal dictatorship of Bashar Al Assad, as I watched friends and family members and innocent civilians being ruthlessly killed,” he continued.
Akoush said he learned English, decided to move to Turkey and became a freelance journalist after facing “a litany of death threats and constant bombardment.”
“Fortunately, I was awarded a partial scholarship from Columbia to cover half of the tuition but it is still not enough and that is why I am hoping you will make a donation to help pay for my first year of tuition,” he wrote.
Akoush received $51,426 in donations, surpassing his goal of $50,000.
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