From war-torn Syria to academic superstardom

Joudy Banyan, 12, who now lives in Milnerton after her family fled war-torn Syria seven years ago, collected nine academic awards at Seamount Primary School’s prize-giving ceremony on Thursday December 8.

Joudy Banyan, a Grade 7 pupil at Seamount Primary School in Milnerton, came top of her grade in all her subjects, including English and Afrikaans.

What is so special about Joudy’s achievements is that when she arrived in South Africa from Syria seven years ago, she did not speak a single word of English or Afrikaans.

Joudy’s family fled their war-torn homeland, in March 2015, to seek a new life in Cape Town. She was only 5 at the time.

Joudy says when she first attended Grade 1 at a school in Bo-Kaap it was hard for her, as she could not speak English and Afrikaans. She learned a bit of English by listening to her peers but still could not speak Afrikaans.

It was only after she transferred to Seamount Primary two years ago that she became more fluent in both languages, she says.

She praised her teachers for helping her to master the languages as well as her other subjects.

“The teachers at Seamount Primary were very experienced and made sure I understood my work, and that is when I started getting higher marks in my subjects.”

At the school’s prize-giving on Thursday December 8, Joudy swept the board of all Grade 7 academic awards, taking home the English, Afrikaans, “’most bilingual”, natural sciences, maths, life-orientation, academic excellence (for getting 75% and above in all subjects), and the dux award.

Seamount Primary School principal Walter Langley says that when Joudy collected the dux award, she received a standing ovation from 500 parents and pupils in the hall.

Joudy says it was thrilling to get all the awards, but she knew she would do well because she had worked very hard throughout the year.

Mr Langley, who also taught Joudy technology in Grade 7, says her achievements are nothing short of exceptional, especially for a young foreign national who struggled with English and spoke not a word of Afrikaans when she arrived at the school.

Her achievement is a combination of the hard work put in by both herself and her teachers, he says.

“We pride ourselves in delivering the highest quality of education for all our learners.”

Joudy’s mother, Reem Asalieh, says she is very proud of her daughter, and the prize-giving was one of the happiest days of her life.

Joudy Banyan, middle, with, from left, her father Omar Banyan, teacher Francis Platt, mother Reem Asalieh and sister Shahd Banyan, at the prize-giving ceremony.