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Cheilaugh Garvey may be best known to many in Guilford as the lady who founded Guilford's traditional Halloween Parade (now known as the Halloween Party) seven years ago, but the art teacher and former Parks & Recreation commissioner is out of town this Halloween-and she could use some help.
Garvey is off on a teaching adventure at the American Cooperative School of Tunis in North Africa. She has been there since August with her son, and is expecting to soon be joined by her husband, Steve Vardy.
Garvey contacted the Courier last week via email to report experiencing an unfortunate event in September at the school and asked the Courier to share the news with its readers, who may be interested in assisting with getting the school back on its feet.
On Sept. 14, the school was looted and burned by extremists who had first attacked the nearby U.S. embassy that day.
"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," wrote Garvey.
On the morning of Sept. 14, the American Embassy sent word that "massive demonstrations" were expected in the afternoon (in response to a video insulting Prophet Muhammad) and so the school was evacuated at 12:45 p.m., according to Garvey.
"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. 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," she wrote.
No one was hurt in the attack, but the building and its contents suffered extensive damage.
"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," wrote Garvey.
The school community is now in the process of rebuilding and reopening its classrooms, an effort that Garvey said is an even more important story than the news of the looting, as it is a story of "hope and resilience."
"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 percent of the remaining $5 million in other losses," she explained.
Garvey is now reaching out to the Guilford community for any assistance people may be willing to give to help re-open the doors of the school in the coming weeks.
"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. 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," she wrote.
Readers interested in helping can make donations through the school website at www.acst.net. The school is a registered U.S. not-for-profit organization.
The American Cooperative School of Tunis serves students from preschool through 12th grade. It has 632 students who hail from more than 70 countries and speak 60 languages. The school was founded in 1959 by U.S. embassy parents who wanted to ensure their children had an American-style education.