YFH Trip to Damascus Syria 2008

January 2008

     Today we distributed heaters, clothing, food and money to Iraqi refugees. We learned, firsthand, that the government’s assurances about Iraqis are not accurate.

     The first site we went to was like a small village built with cinder blocks. We went in a huge bus called “Happy Journey”. An Iraqi woman (Ahlam) who became our guide led us to this small neighborhood. The houses were undeveloped, like skeletons of the apartments in Turkey. Trash was burning in piles on the sides of the roads. Small children ran around carrying their siblings. There was one little girl who dragged her baby brother along. When we offered them candy, they began to cry and run away. We were told that they were frightened because we were speaking English.
     We visited many families and they all invited us into their houses, which were completely empty, except for some blankets on the floor where they slept. They were (almost) all so thankful. Some said that they would remember our visit their whole lives and tell everyone in the neighborhood. The fact that our small visit meant so much to them was extremely touching. There were many sad stories hidden behind their bright, thankful smiles. There were women whose husbands have been shot by Americans, and they were still hospitable toward us. One man used to have 6 children—4 girls and 2 boys. His oldest son was killed by American soldiers, his other son was kidnapped by local gangs and held hostage for a ransom; but because they couldn’t pay, he was cut up into pieces. Ahlam spoke of a boy who was kidnapped and tortured in Iraq and now suffers from mental disabilities. There was one girl who traveled with us; her name is Helen. Her uncle was shot in front of her. She had the most radiant smile I have ever seen. She said that she is so thankful to be where she is now. She lives in 2 rooms with her mother, brother and father (who was searching for a job when we visited.) Some of the refugees needed scholarships and others, money so the doctors could treat their children. Some were going mad with sadness and hopelessness, while others were radiant with faith and thankfulness. I enjoyed watching the children’s faces light up the most. They are taught not to accept something until the third time someone offers it (to be polite). So they would refuse shyly before taking it, and their mouths would stretch into broad smiles as if they couldn’t help it.

     At our first stop, the children were all smiles, and took turns posing for the cameras. Our work today was both physically and emotionally tiring.

Tomorrow we will visit an orphanage and a university. We will perform some ilahis (songs) for them as well as give a speech. We practiced the ilahis until midnight in the boys’ living room (Mail Oldum, Lil Hamseti, Muhammedun Esrefun, Talaal Bedru Aleyna). It was challenging but enjoyable. InshAllah we will please our audience and put smiles on their faces.

Last Night
     All the rest of the days melted together…
     One day was spent shopping; one was spent at a camp, and then at Ahlam’s school.
     This morning, we went to Ahlam’s school and played with her students. They were so cute and bright! We played Soup- Macaroni, and this one rowdy boy named Mostafa would sing, “Soup, Michael Jackson…” He was very excited about the game and he was also very rambunctious.

Last night, we met Gale and Teresa from FOR. They are now living in Damascus trying to find Iraqi refugees who speak English so they can try to send them to American universities. Ten students came and we met and spoke to them. They were such intelligent and focused people! They knew exactly what they wanted to do and they were trying so hard to get their education. They were fluent in English, coming out of the war-torn Baghdad. I thought of the many American students who get everything so easily, and go to colleges to party; and how good it would be for them to switch places with these refugees for a while. This way, the American students would learn to be thankful, while the refugees would educate themselves, fulfill their dreams and redevelop their destroyed country. These young people were so inspiring that it tore my heart, and brought tears to my eyes. For some reason, the story of these students hurts me more than the poor families. Maybe because I am thinking about my education. Gale and Theresa really impressed me and I realized that I would love to do what they are doing. I would love to work toward the education of the refugees so they can develop their countries. InshAllah, I will be able to help one day, and InshAllah these students will make it to the US to study and become great people.

Zeynep Doganata, 18