Monday, June 2, 2014

We do still have human beings in Syria to take care of

When I was invited to the Netherlands by IKV-PaxChristi last September, I was shocked by the reaction of people I encountered everywhere. Most of them considered what is happening in Syria to be more complicated for them to get involved in any way, even on the humanitarian level. Actually a friend of mine working in a humanitarian organization told me later on that his organization, which is based in the UK, managed to raise more money in 10 days for the Philippines than they could raise in an entire year for Syria. It took me only few discussions to realize that this was somehow due to the fact that the ordinary european citizen is getting most of his information about Syria from the mainstream media, which is more concerned about the news of battles and Jihadis than of those of the Syrian people and its daily struggle to survive.

I told my dutch friends then that I will try to write on my blog a different story about Syria every two weeks. Unfortunately, once I came back to Lebanon I was taken by the fast rhythm of my life and totally forgot about it. Actually I forgot about it until this afternoon when I saw a Facebook post by my friend Hania. She was talking about her daily positive contact, through her work as a journalist, with the good people of Syria who are still holding on to their non-sectarian principles. I wrote a comment saying that: "we need this kind of stories about Syria to be present more often in the western media. People in the west seems to have forgotten that we do still have human beings in this part of the world not just a bunch of murderers killing each others". I thought then that I should start with myself, So this is today's story about Judy and Jana...


I met this twin a year ago when their mother "Siham" asked for our help for a patient coming from
Syria. Then, few months later, Siham herself joined our team and started working for our organisation, as a manager of the peace and tolerance summer camps first, and then as a director of the community-based non-formal school we launched in Shatila camp for Syrian refugee kids.

Since, Judy and Jana have become members of our core-team! Their mother, would bring them to our meetings and even to our managerial retreats. Actually this gave me the chance to closely observe the changes these two angels has gone through since their trauma.

On the 11th of January 2013, Judy and Jana were in the back seat of their parents car, who were trying to bring some bread packages to the people sieged in Yarmouk camp near Damascus, when a sniper shot their father in his chest. This led them to witness the slow death of their father, while they had only 5 years old. Their mother, who never had the chance to grieve her husband and the love of her life, had to move them after a while to Lebanon, fortunately before the complete siege of Yarmouk camp took place. Here, they had a difficult period of instability, and had to move between too many apartments in different cities and villages in Lebanon until they finally settled in in Beirut. During this time it was really hard for their mother to take care of them and work at the same time. They usually refused to be left with anyone other than their mother. They refused to leave her even for a single moment, as if they were too afraid of loosing her the way they lost their father. They even refused to sleep, if their mother wasn't in the same bed. And if Siham had to leave the bed for any reason, they would wake up immediately. This is why we had to bring them along to whatever activity we had for the core-team. And when someone offered them a scholarship at one of Lebanon's finest schools, they couldn't cope at all, and had to leave it after a while.

But Judy and Jana were transformed since they joined their peers in the community-based school five months ago. They became less aggressive, more friendly, and willing to learn and make new friends. Noticing this alone was bringing joy to my heart. But then I had a wonderful surprise this weekend.

I used to tease Jana by calling her Hamda - just any name other than hers that I could have thought of at time- and she always refused to answer for this new name, and reacted angrily. Last week I was really having a bad time, a lot of problems on different levels, that made me tired and depressed. It happened that when I arrived to our office in Shatila, last Friday, I found them running in the corridors waiting for their mother to finish some paper work before taking them home. I greeted Jana by using her real name in the best way someone in my psychological situation could have done. For my surprise she stopped suddenly when she heard her name, approached me, asked me to call her Hamda, jumped to give me a quick kiss while I always had to beg for it, and ran away before I could even react!

I do believe that kids are blessed with a certain sensibility that we lack as adults. But seeing how Jana, our angry bird, has become able to express her love and to care for others, even in this simple way, was like a healing touch for me. The same day, Judy who came to participate in our event "Bike for Books" was spreading joy and energy all around. She got very sad when she wasn't allowed to go into the night ride with the other members of the organization.


Once Siham, Judy and Jana's mother, was depressed herself and thinking of paying someone to make her and her two daughters join the illegal boat trips from Libya's shores to Europe, in an attempt to guarantee them a better future instead of the ambiguous one here in Lebanon. She was deeply concerned that her own bad health won't allow her to take care of those two for long time. She wanted some assurances for their future. The idea of putting them at the risk of drowning drove me crazy, but at the same time I couldn't fool Siham by giving her empty assurances. I told her frankly that I don't have any assurances for their future nor for mine. The only thing I can promise I said, is that we are going to do our best to take care of her angels, if God forbid something happened to her, and this we can't do if they are away in some european country.

On Friday night, while riding my bicycle in Beirut, I found myself thinking again of those two kids, and telling myself that I don't have the right to fall into despair and depression. Those are my real heroes and saviours: Jana, Judy and Siham the stubborn fighter.

During those bad days of barrel and mortar shelling on both sides of Aleppo city, and he calls from both parties for revenge, I ask myself, how many Jana and Judy do exist on both sides?

In those bad days when the media is so concerned about Abu Hurayra El-Amricy and his western Jihadi comrades, I feel like we really need to tell more stories about Jana and Judy's peers and their struggle to survive. I do feel the need to tell the world that we still have human beings in Syria to take care of.

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