Former Whatcom County teachers are helping to pick up the pieces at their school in the North African nation of Tunisia, after it was heavily damaged by looters and protesters Friday, Sept. 14.
Several teachers at the American Cooperative School of Tunis are from the Bellingham area, as well as the school's director, Allan Bredy, who spoke with The Bellingham Herald from Tunisia Monday.
The private school is located in the Tunisian capital across the highway from the U.S. Embassy and is attended by about 650 students from 70 countries. The nearby embassy, like several others in the Islamic world, was the target of angry protests over a short anti-Muslim video produced in the United States and circulated on YouTube.
The school's elementary building was gutted by fire, and several school buses and a school car also were burned in the protest. After the demonstration dissipated, neighborhood thugs took advantage of the chaos to steal supplies from the school, Bredy said.
"They basically looted our campus, taking really everything of value: all the computers, phones, all the technical equipment we have," he said. "It was devastating."
Staff and students at the school were sent home when security heard plans about the protest Friday. Bredy stayed in touch with the school's security officers from his home in Carthage, a suburb of Tunis, as events unfolded at the embassy. Once the protest moved to the school, he told his security officers to retreat for their safety, telling them, "We can replace buildings and supplies, but we can't replace your life." No one was harmed.
While it was disconcerting to have the school targeted by protesters, Bredy said the situation has calmed down and he still feels safe in the country.
"It was really one event in time," he said. "It's not a reflection of the big picture in Tunisia."
Bredy and other administrators worked over the weekend at the school and plan to work all week with the aim of reopening the school Sept. 24. Elementary students displaced by the fire will be moved into other areas of the school, and administrators are taking stock of what is needed to restore the campus.
"We've got a groundswell of support to help the school open," he said.
The U.S. government, the Tunisian government and international agencies have offered their support, and he's gotten offers of help with restocking and rebuilding. Tunisian officials and citizens have come to him almost nonstop to express their embarrassment and sadness for what happened to the school.
"Tunisians are apologizing what their countrymen did to our school and the U.S. Embassy. My response has been, 'You're no more responsible for what these radicals did to our school than we are for what an American filmmaker did to Islam,'" he said. "'Neither of us are responsible for the damages that have been done. And we can work together.'"
Reach Zoe Fraley at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2803. Visit her School Days blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/schools or get updates on Twitter at twitter.com/BhamSchools.
Reach ZOE FRALEY at email@example.com or call 756-2803.