Brandon’s Shayleen Burgoyne, left, is seen with her family at the Roman ruins in Tunisia. The school at which Burgoyne teaches, the American Cooperative School in Tunis, Tunisia, was targeted by extremists in retaliation to a film insulting the Prophet Muhammad. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Children look at a burned bus at the American Cooperative School adjacent to the U.S. embassy compound in Tunis, Tunisia, on Sept. 15. The school was ransacked and set ablaze by protesters outraged over an anti-Islam film. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
The inside of a burned American school adjacent to the U.S. embassy compound in Tunis, Tunisia, on Sept. 15, a day after several thousand demonstrators angry over a film that insults the Prophet Muhammad stormed the compound. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Uncertain times in the North African country of Tunisia have only strengthened the resolve of one local school teacher.Shayleen Burgoyne, who grew up in Brandon and graduated from Neelin High School, teaches at the American Cooperative School of Tunis in Tunisia. The school, which caters to American children in Tunis, was the target of an attack after extremists turned their focus to the school from the nearby U.S. embassy on Sept. 14.
"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," Burgoyne said via email from Tunis.
Upon hearing of the potential uprisal, Burgoyne said the decision was made to evacuate the school and that all students and staff were out of the building by the noon hour.
"By 2:30 p.m., demonstrators flooded the streets and less than two hours later, extremists had broken into our school, followed quickly by looters," Burgoyne said.
"Our security staff, unarmed and outnumbered, were forced to retreat to the back of the campus. Calls to the police went unanswered."
Four people were killed and dozens wounded in the protests, but no one from the school was injured, according to Burgoyne.
"The damage was extensive," she said. "Our elementary library was in ashes and 12 elementary classrooms were gutted. The middle and high school were looted and ransacked. Everything of value was stolen, including more than 300 computers and all our science equipment and musical instruments."
Tunisia is being closely monitored by other countries in the region after hosting democratic elections about 11 months ago. The country’s Islamist ruling Ennahdha party has condemned the attacks, which are believed to be orchestrated by hardline Salafists.
The violence, in response to a video posted online called "The Innocence of Muslims," has spawned attacks throughout the world. While the violence is in retaliation to the video, it is also meant to intimidate Americans living in the country, but Burgoyne said the school will be steadfast in its resolve to continue education in Tunis.
"More important than the violence of that day is the story of hope and resilience," Burgoyne said. "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."
It is also important to tell the world that the acts of violence were perpetrated by a small group, according to Burgoyne, a group that doesn’t accurately characterize the Tunisian people.
"Members of the local community have pitched in, providing information on criminals, returning stolen materials and expressing their sorrow," Burgoyne said. "(Tunisia) is simply struggling in the early days of democracy, 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."
For now, Burgoyne’s main goal is reopening the school and anyone wishing to donate to help that rebuilding process can visit the website acst.net.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 24, 2012