Syrian teenager who studied by torchlight on mobile phone as his country was bombed lands place at Cambridge

Abdullah Kattineh, 19, studied on a tiny mobile phone screen because his family couldn’t afford textbooks (Picture: SWNS)

A Syrian teenager who studied by torchlight while his war-torn home was battered with bombs has been awarded a place at Cambridge University.

Abdullah Kattineh, 19, used a 4.5 inch mobile phone screen to teach himself chemistry as his family were unable to afford books.

He has been accepted to study natural sciences at Cambridge after an online fundraising campaign was backed by hundreds of people.

Cambridge University’s Corpus Christi College have also offered the teenager a full scholarship – covering his fees and living costs of more than £48,000.

“It is the ultimate honour to be the only Syrian student who got admitted to Cambridge University this year,” said Mr Kattineh.

“I can’t by any language – or type of creative writing – express what this chance means to me.

“I can’t dismiss from my mind how difficult it was to study without electricity 18 hours a day, or how difficult it was to study all the books from a 4.5-inch mobile phone screen because we couldn’t afford to buy the original books or a device with a bigger screen.


“Most of us – the Syrian people – were paralysed by the outcomes of the Syrian crisis.

“From an extreme devaluation of the Syrian currency accompanied by the difficulty to afford the costs of living to the possibility of losing your best friend or family member at any moment.

“To me, I’ve always been a dreamer, and those circumstances made me even more determined to achieve my dreams.”

The self-taught teenager took part in the Syrian Chemistry Olympiad Competition in 2015 and made it to the international level.

He graduated from college in 2017 and immediately set his sights on a place at Cambridge, applying for the Cambridge Trust Scholarship, which provides funding for gifted students in financial need.

But after being unsuccessful, he refused to give up on his dream and set up a fundraising website asking for help.

On the site, Mr Kattineh wrote: “Unfortunately, my family can’t afford the university, college, and living costs to study at Cambridge.

“The problem in Syria, beside the horrible economic situation, is that we don’t have Visa cards or online bank accounts due to economic restrictions.

“As a result, I can’t receive help from anyone of my family or friends who are residents in Syria.”

Within hours, Mr Kattineh, from Damascus, had received £800 from Cambridge University students and 450 people signed an open letter calling on the university to support him.

It is believed he is the only Syrian to be admitted to the prestigious institution this year.

Dr Michael Sutherland, tutor for admissions at Corpus Christi College, said: “This is an exceptional case.

“Abdullah has had to overcome tremendous obstacles to win the place at Corpus and we want to support him and ensure he is fully funded and able to concentrate on his studies and new life here.”

The Syrian student is going to study at Cambridge University (Picture: PA)

Bursar Tim Harvey-Samuel added that the college’s contribution was raised from endowed funds given by benefactors to the Cambridge Trust to help students in need.

“The immensely generous and appreciated support of our alumni and other donors has allowed us to find the funding Abdullah needs,” said Mr Harvey-Samuel.

“We look forward to seeing him begin his degree with us in October.”

The Cambridge Trust is a grant-awarding body which provides the largest number of awards to overseas students studying at Cambridge.

Helen Pennant, director of the Cambridge Trust, said: “The trust is delighted to support this student who has faced so many challenges.”

His fundraising campaign was supported by the Cambridge Refugee Scholarship Campaign (CRSC) that aims to establish a support scholarships for students hindered by political or humanitarian crises.