This letter was sent to newspapers in the hometowns of our ACST teachers. Here is the full copy that was sent to the Bellingham Herald.
On Friday, September 14 our school, the American Cooperative School of Tunis, was looted and burned by extremists when they turned from attacking the nearby US embassy and headed to our doors.
As Bellingham and Whatcom County natives, we thought your readers, many of them parents and teachers like me, might be interested in a first-hand perspective of those horrific events and how we are responding.
That morning, school started as usual, but word quickly came from the American embassy that massive demonstrations in response to a video insulting Prophet Muhammad were expected that afternoon. The school evacuated students and staff by 12:45pm. By 2:30pm, demonstrators flooded the streets, and less than two hours later, extremists had broken into our school, followed quickly by looters.
Our security staff, unarmed and outnumbered, was forced to retreat to the back of the campus. Calls to the police went unanswered. When the number of looters dwindled, the security team along with the school director drove the rest out of the buildings.
Thankfully, no one was hurt. But the damage was extensive. Our elementary library was in ashes, and 12 elementary classrooms were gutted. The middle and high schools were looted and ransacked. Everything of value was stolen, including more than 300 computers and all our science equipment and musical instruments.
But more important than the violence of that day is the story of hope and resilience that follows. Teachers, parents, and students are working day and night to salvage what we can and rearrange our remaining spaces to get our students back in class quickly and safely. Members of the local community have pitched in, providing information on the criminals, returning stolen materials, and expressing their sorrow.
Our school mission is to open doors, hearts and minds. We are committed to reopening our school, and giving our students the education they deserve. But it will not be easy. The Tunisian government has promised to help us rebuild the elementary school. However, because it was a riot, insurance covers only 20% of the remaining $4 million in other losses.
Some might ask what we are doing in North Africa. Tunisia is a wonderful place; it is simply struggling in the early days of democracy, as our own country did many years ago. The violence was not the work of the Tunisian people or of any religious faith. It was the work of a small criminal minority, interested only in their own destructive goals.
When we open the school again in the coming weeks, we will be sending a message that respect, learning, and hope are stronger than hate.
Should your readers be interested in helping, donations can be made through the school website at http://www.acst.net. The school is a registered U.S. not-for-profit organization.
Thank you for your consideration sharing this story.
Allan and Julie Bredy worked for Bellingham Schools for several years before Allan became a Principal in Spokane, Port Angeles, Singapore, then Director at the Lincoln School in Kathmandu. He is currently the Director of ACST and Julie is a Middle School humanities teacher who has worked at Columbia Elementary, Carl Cozier Elementary and Sehome High School.
Kaylee Vaughn Panek is a 2nd grade teacher who lost her entire classroom to fire. She is a graduate of Bellingham High School and has been teaching and living in Tunisia for over a year with her husband Simon Panek.
Marty and Bridged Atkins have lived in Tunisia for 6 weeks. Marty taught mathematics at Bellingham and Sehome High Schools for 17 years. Bridged was the office manager for Murry Chiropractic & Assoc.
Lori Riggleman taught at Mt. Baker Junior High and Horizon Middle School in Ferndale. Mark Riggleman taught at Blaine High School.
Andy and Shelly have been living and teaching overseas for 10 years with the latest one being in Tunisia. Andy was a math teacher at Bellingham and Squalicum High Schools for 11 years. Shelly worked for St. Joseph’s Hospital.
Jenny Purpura is also a new teacher at American Cooperative School of Tunis. Her father, Dr. Richard Vawter is a Professor Emeritus of Physic from WWU.
The American Cooperative School of Tunis serves students from preschool through twelfth grade. It has 632 students who hail from more than 70 countries and speak 60 languages. The school was founded in 1959 by US embassy parents who wanted to ensure their children had an American-style education.
Tunisia is a small Mediterranean country in the center of the North African coast. It is the birthplace of the Arab Spring, a wave of democratic movements across the Middle East and North Africa in early 2011.
NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/15/world/middleeast/anti-american-protests-over-film-enter-4th-day.html
Tunisia Live: http://www.tunisia-live.net/2012/09/17/director-of-american-school-in-tunis-recounts-day-of-looting-and-vandalism/
And here is the shortened article that made it into the Bellingham Herald so far: