Syrian student who failed GCSE English exam praised for poem about homeland

Ftoun Abou Kerech wrote “The Doves of Damascus” shortly after arriving in the UK aged 14, in which she writes about the sadness she felt about leaving Syria. (Twitter: @KateClanchy1)
Updated 24 August 2019

Syrian student who failed GCSE English exam praised for poem about homeland

  • Ftoun Abou Kerech wrote “The Doves of Damascus” shortly after arriving in the UK

LONDON: A Syrian student in the UK who failed her English GCSE exams has gone viral with a poem she wrote about her homeland.
Ftoun Abou Kerech wrote “The Doves of Damascus” shortly after arriving in the UK aged 14, in which she writes about the sadness she felt about leaving Syria and what made it special to her.
Her teacher, Kate Clanchy — who is also an award-winning poet herself — posted it on Twitter and it was quickly picked up and praised by social media users.
Clanchy, speaking to the UK’s The Times newspaper, said she posted the poem in frustration that the current GCSE system did not recognize “literary talent and imaginative use of language.”

She said: “The new GCSE is the last straw in a bundle of shallow thinking.
“It is over-determined syllabuses and bullying of teachers which has been getting heavier for a long, long time,” she added.
Syrian student Kerech achieved a 4 in her English Language exam, but 5 is considered a good pass.
Her poem was picked up by notable authors like Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, and Sir Philip Pullman — author of His Dark Materials — who hailed the student as a “talent.”
 

 

 

— — —

The Doves of Damascus

I lost my country and everything I
had before.

And now
I cannot remember for sure
the soft of the snow in my country.
I cannot remember
the feel of the damp air in summer.

Sometimes I think I remember
the smell of the jasmine
as I walked down the street

And sometimes autumn
With its orange and scarlet leaves
Flying in the high Damascus sky.

And I am sure I remember
my grandmother’s roof garden,
its vines, its sweet red grapes,
The mint she grew in crates for tea.

I remember the birds, the doves
of Damascus. I remember
how they scattered. I remember
Trying to catch them.


The Room Place: A window to Egyptian art 

The shop partners with Fair Trade, a social enterprise in Egypt that works with 2,300 artisans. (Supplied)
Updated 5 min 49 sec ago

The Room Place: A window to Egyptian art 

DUBAI: Located in the heart of the UAE, The Room Place in Jumeirah, Dubai is a store that exclusively sells traditional crafts made by Egyptian artisans.

The shop partners with Fair Trade, a social enterprise in Egypt that works with 2,300 artisans in about 17 villages and is divided into 75 crafts, to sell, promote and market handmade work both locally and globally.

The founder of The Room Place, Amira El-Serafy, told Arab News: “Artisans get very excited about working with Fair Trade because they secure a number of added value and benefits to them and to their families. They immediately get the fair amount of cash.”

“You can’t really see imperfection in handmade stuff,” said Amira El-Serafy, founder of The Room Place. (Supplied)

“We work together to ensure that their work environment is safe. We also work together on literacy programs and we try as much as we can to erase illiteracy from their areas,” El-Serafy said. 

In her store, in an Arabian-style souq that “complements the interior of the shop and the products,” the Dubai-raised Egyptian entrepreneur sells home-decor products that range from palm-leaf baskets, embroidery work, wood-carved goods, rugs, pottery and alabaster items. 

Ninety percent of the artisans Fair Trade and The Room Place work with are women. (Supplied)

“The idea of making sure that traditional crafts do not disappear is itself a message,” said El-Serafy, whose background is in advertising and journalism. “We have so many beautiful traditional crafts that we need to shed light on. We can easily compete with mass production and on a different scale because every piece is unique.”

If the artwork is not handmade, the machines the craftsmen use are made by them. “There isn’t machinery that burns fuel emitting toxins into the environment, no. They are aware of the environment,” El-Serafy said. 

If the artwork is not handmade, the machines the craftsmen use are made by them. (Supplied)

Ninety percent of the artisans Fair Trade and The Room Place work with are women. “This shows how they are becoming more independent and are able to sustain their own income,” she said.

“Sometimes people ask, ‘Do you think their perfection is in their imperfection?’ You can’t really see imperfection in handmade stuff. It’s too beautiful on its own. You can feel texture, you can feel color, you can sometimes feel the clay in the items,” she said. 

Fair Trade works with artisans in about 17 villages and is divided into 75 crafts. (Supplied)

The goods sold at The Room Place are made to be suitable for the Gulf region, but without losing the traditional element. “For example, people here like the bigger pieces of pottery because they use it for display,” El-Serafy said.