Sarah Fang (Phoenix '96) currently teaches high school English and Social Studies in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She's part of the social media arm of the public awareness campaign to release James Foley from Syrian captivity.
James (Jim) Foley and I met at Teach For America's Houston Institute in 1996. We had the same self-deprecating sense of humor and that first year of teaching, shared a lot of much-needed laughs. Our Phoenix corps of about 30 teachers was a tight-knit group, and many of us have maintained our friendships over the decades.
After we left our placement schools in Phoenix, both of us alternatively moved through creative writing programs and a variety of teaching-related jobs, with Jim eventually deciding that the best stories he could tell were the real ones he could capture as a conflict journalist, giving voice to those who might be forgotten. I found happiness in teaching abroad, making the world my backyard while trying to inspire the next generation to love and appreciate the power of words.
Over the years, Jim and I have kept in touch while each of us works overseas. We talk about teaching, reminisce about our days in the corps, and share our writing. We last talked in mid-November, making plans to meet up back in the U.S. this summer, when both us of are "home." We ended our conversation the way we always do when he's reporting from a war zone: me telling him to be safe, him reassuring me that he would. I haven't heard from him since.
Jim was working as a freelance reporter in Syria when a witness saw him abducted by a group of armed men on November 22nd, 2012. This is not the first time Jim has been taken hostage. Back in 2011, a group of Muammar Gaddafi's soldiers captured and held him for 44 days.
I never questioned why Jim continued to report from war zones after being captured just a couple of years ago. That's because I know Jim. He's still the same idealist that he was back when he was a Teach For America corps member, when he'd promise students that he'd take them to the Castles and Coasters amusement park if they would come to class everyday. Jim is always true to his word.
His sense of integrity has always meant devoting himself entirely to his work. As a teacher, Jim dedicated hours to his middle school social studies students at Lowell School and stayed in touch even when he was no longer their teacher. As a journalist, Jim's sense of duty and dedication leads him to want to report the deepest truths even if it means risking his own personal safety.
So it's no surprise to me that he wanted to work in Syria. He's always been willing to step into a zone where no one else wants to go. Jim feels that society needs reporters willing to bear witness and report back the facts of history-in-the-making. And his loyalty to his colleagues meant that he wanted to be there with them on the frontlines.
Today, as in 2011, several of Jim's Teach For America friends have been working with the Foley family to publicize the appeal for his release. Jim's former middle-school students have also taken part in the campaign, including Rebecca Covarrubias—now a graduate student at Arizona State University—who organized a vigil for Jim in Phoenix and has again offered to do anything needed to help the teacher who has always been there for her.
We hope spreading awareness about his capture will help bring Jim home.