Hope from the Ashes/ #MeWeSyria

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photo taken by refugee youth from JEN NGO during #MeWeSyria workshop in zaatari refugee cmap, 2015

In recent years I have been working with brave Syrian refugee youth while leading the #MeWeSyria storytelling workshops in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, one of the largest refugee camps in the world.

In doing this work, there are a few discoveries that give me hope in this time of despair following the carnage of the last few days in Paris and Beirut, and the cacophony of some politicians refusing to support refugees in Europe and America.

For refugees, Syria is the end game… not Europe, not America

The traditional portrait of migrants and refugees is that they are helpless wanderers who just want to come to Europe and America for ‘the good life’, or to implant their brand of religion and culture in a foreign land. How untrue this is.

With news images of three year-old Aylan Kurdi washed upon the coast of Turkey and thousands of Syrians marching the highways towards Austria and Germany, I had asked young Syrian change-makers from the #MeWeSyria project what they see and think as they hear the words ‘homeland’ and ‘refugees’.

“Currently, we are refugees. I have an idea, a thought that the homeland and the exile are like the mother and the stepmother,” he says with a smile. “It is right that she embraces the person but it does not have the affection of the mother,” a refugee participant of #MeWeSyria tells us.

Another young Syrian refugee from #MeWeSyria, an aspiring photographer and artist, responded:

We feel sorrow and sadness. We ran away from the war, killing and destruction in order to live in peace away from the scenes of murder and bloodshed. Everyone flees with his family and his children in order to build a beautiful future for them. I did not have any country to protect our rights. We are human beings and we have the right to live in peace. We want peace and nothing else.

A teenage Syrian girl from #MeWeSyria who is mentoring younger Syrian refugees says, “I don’t want the world to open the doors for us. I want them to open Syria for us so we can go back home and live again.”

Europe and America are not the end game for refugees. Syrians’ first choice is to return to a peaceful mother Syria.

Watani

As part of the #MeWeSyria storytelling program, young refugees inside the Zaatari refugee camp are writing, filming, directing and editing their own short films. The project aims to decentralize the power of narrative, and activate changemakers through creative enterprise and the process of storytelling. In this particular piece, refugees explored the concept of home, or ‘watani’. They had no props or fancy sets. What they did have were their camera phones with pictures of Syria from before war…their spirit of hope and desire for peace, and the barren desert space surrounded by concrete walls and barbed wire.

The messages these Syrian refugees share are gifts to hold close to in these times of fear and uncertainty.

Past, present, future

As soon as we abandon the ingredients of peace, then we lose our past, present and future. As host countries and Western societies, we must remember this when enemies of peace will try and waiver our faith with cowardly attacks. This is what Syrian refugee youth teach us in the above video piece ‘Hope From The Ashes’.

The other thing to bear in mind is that some of the Syria’s young refugees are refugees precisely because they chose to stand up for the same values and rights that many of us in Western societies hold dear. And there are also many refugees who didn’t want any trouble, and were just trying to quietly earn a living to support their families, or finish getting their degrees so that they could one day give back to their community.

No matter which side you are on, or which way you look at it, Syria’s nightmare knocks on the doors of Western nations today, and our power as a collective humanity will be determined in our resilience for upholding hope, pluralism and peace with refugee youth, not absent from them.

The fight for Peace/ Reaction to #ParisAttacks #BeirutAttacks

Love and prayers to our brothers and sisters in Paris and Beirut who are enduring–first-hand–the violence that Syrian refugees have been fleeing for more than four years.

Resistance is not ISIS or extremist groups killing innocents. Resistance…real resistance is lighting a candle instead of cursing the dark. That is what we must do in our breath, our actions and our intentions as we face this darkness.

With love, hope,  and humor, ‘s youth fight unseen battles against darkness each day. I see it with my own eyes each time young refugees are sharing water with their neighbors. I see it each time a young girl walks upon desert rocks for miles under the sun to attend a class or to teach younger kids in a make-shift school. I see it each time a family in a tent shares a meal together in a dusty trailer or tent and prays for peace and a return home. I see it in the smiles and eyes of those like you, me and anyone else.

Anyone that has lived and worked with Syrian refugees will know that r youth are the solution, not the problem. A mantra of #MeWeSyria is: While the world continues to fail the people of Syria–now entering its fifth year of war– Syria’s youth will not fail our humanity nor our world.

Sustainable peace and development requires our world–ALL OF US– to hold tighter to the ingredients of peace, love and hope–not retreat from them. The images of Germans and Austrians opening their homes and sharing love and peace with Syrians fleeing war was a devastating blow for ISIS and extremists…the equivalent of a 9-11 for the extremists and terrorists. Such actions and images are what ISIS does not want to prevail.

As soon as we leave these ingredients of peace and hope, or lose faith in them, then we lose our past, present and future.

#MeWeSyria stands with Paris, with Beirut and with the youth of Syria…we stand with our collective humanity.

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