Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini’s story of hope for young Syrian refugees

Education in emergencies

Yusra gets a lesson at her sports school in Berlin, Germany


When Syrian swimmer Yusra Mardini won her her Olympics 100 metres butterfly heat in Brazil, she was in the water for just over a minute.

When she and her sister helped to save the lives of 20 refugees whose boat was in danger of capsizing, she was in the water for three and a half hours.

The motor on a leaking dinghy taking them from Turkey to Greece failed and most of those on board could not swim. Yusra, sister Sarah and two others jumped into the sea and towed the boat to the island of Lesbos.

Yusra swimming her 100 metres freestyle heat

“I had one hand with the rope attached to the boat as I moved my two legs and one arm,” said the 18-year-old, who is part of the historic Olympic Refugee Team.

“It was three and half hours in cold water. Your body is almost done. Without swimming I would never be alive.”

The story of this remarkable Syrian refugee is a story of hope for all young people who have fled from the war-torn country to safe havens.

She is just one of almost five million Syrian refugees now living in other countries. They include more than one million children of school age who are now in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

While Yusra dreams of Olympic glory, they dream of going to school, of getting good jobs, of helping to rebuild their country.

World leaders promised at a funding conference in February to get every Syrian refugee child in education for the start of the new school year. But with just weeks to go, those promises have not been kept.

You can tell world leaders they must keep their promise by sending them a message hereAnd you can watch and share this film.

Yusra – who fled from her home in Damascus and now lives in Germany – took part in the 100 metres butterfly and 100 metres freestyle events. Although she won her butterfly heat, her time wasn't fast enough for her to qualify for the semi-finals.

She said: “I want to represent refugees because I want to show everyone that after the pain and the storm come calm days.

“I think I can do whatever I want to do.”

Yusra and Rami are both thrilled to be in Brazil

Another Syrian swimmer in the Olympic Refugee Team also floated across the Mediterranean in a dinghy a year ago to escape from the war.

Rami Anis, 25 – who took part in the men's 100 metres freestyle and butterfly events – travelled through six countries before settling in Belgium.

He said: “I want to shine the spotlight on the plight of refugees. I want to show the best possible image of refugees or Syrian people, or anyone who has suffered injustice in the world, and tell them to not lose hope.”

Like thousands of those young refugees trying to get an education in a foreign land, Rami dreams of one day returning home.

He said: “I hope at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, there will be no refugees and we will be able to go back home.

“Nothing is nearer and dearer to my heart than my homeland.”

Learn more about the Olympic Refugee Team and the plight of refugees

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