Archive | Syrian Activism RSS for this section

Free Yourself for a Free Syria

This post is pretty long overdue, but better late than never.

Ever hear the saying, “Change comes from within”?
I’m pretty sure it was meant to mean something along the lines of, changes you make, come from within you, not from external factors. But, I think it is really applicable to the Syrian revolution, hence my title.

I know many super awesome Syrians who love the revolution, live it and breathe it day and night. And whether due to the pain of watching what is going on within the country, or just because of personal inhibition, they seem to have become inactive and somewhat oppressed. I can attest to that effect, as I wrote about it on this very blog. Sometimes, it is honestly so discouraging to see what is going on in Syria, that you just give up.

But being “free” for a free Syria is one of the most important things we must do to attain a free Syria. We can’t be afraid to speak, we can’t be afraid to take risks, we really can’t be afraid of anything if we want to do something great. And this change, this removal of inhibitions, must come from within, must come from within our community. Not just the Syrian community, and not just for the Syrian cause. But from every human, for every humanitarian and human rights cause. We can’t have a free country, or be a free people, until we we free ourselves from whatever it is that holds us back. That means taking risks, doing what you thought you’d never do, and standing up for what you believe in even when everyone is standing against you.

The Syrian people stood up against a a regime that oppressed them, destroyed their education system and livelihoods for over forty years. Despite their oppression and fear, they stood up, they spoke out, they took a risk. They ended up doing something greater than they ever thought they would do. They put Syria on the map, people now know WHAT Syria is, the international community has their eyes on a country smaller than the state of Florida. Greatest of all, these brave men, women, and children are not just standing against their oppressive government, but standing against a silent international community that allows for the perpetuation of oppressive governments for their own gain. Thats freakin’ HUGE!

Fear did not stop Ali Ferzat, Ibrahim Qashoush, Malek Jandali, Danny Abdul Dayem, the guys of Kafranbel,  and other, even after they faced struggle and threats to their lives. They continue on, they continue to speak out, or, as in the case of Qashoush, they spoke out until the day they died. They are free and they do not let anything stop them from doing what they want to do.

Malala stood up against the Taliban, knowing that she was a target. She was shot in the head and almost lost her life standing up for what she believed in. Today, Malala is alive, sixteen, touring the United States, meeting with the Barack Obama, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She continues to spread her message of the importance of education, and is even working to raise 500 million dollars for the education of Syrian children.

These people had a vision and freed themselves from their own inhibitions to stand up for what they believed in. Malala freed herself from fear of the Taliban so children can have their right to education, Syrians freed themselves from fear of the Assad regime to stand up to an oppressive regime and call for a new world order. They’ve faced fear, they’ve faced struggle, they’ve faced challenges, but they overcome, persevered, and continued on.

Everyone who believes in a cause should do the same. Everyone who believes in Syria should do the same thing. Free yourself for a Free Syria. Host a protest, raise your voice, educate others, do whatever you want. Just don’t be silent, don’t be scared, don’t be discouraged, and never never never give up. Because change truly does come from within. In order to change your community, you must change yourself, and in order to change the state of our country, we must change the way we think, act, and talk about freedom. To have a free Syria, we must be free, we must stay free, and we must operate under the notion that we are already free. 

Free yourself for a Free Syria.

Image

Freedom, Oppression, and Experiencing both Simultaneously

Most people would consider me an “activst”. So far, I have raised over 150,000 dollars in aid, shipped 1000 pounds of medical supplies to Syria, raise awareness, and other things.

However, I used to be a runner. And while I am registered for a half marathon, training with a group, and even ran today, I no longer consider myself a runner.

I first started running to feel free. I would run and run and run, no matter the pain, weather, or how tired I was. I ran because when I did, I felt free. Running free made me an awesome runner because I did it with passion and love, passion and love for what I called freedom.

Then, the Syrian revolution happened and I became an activist. There are time where I’ve gone with so little sleep that I’ve started hallucinating, I’ve lost four pounds in a week because of worrying, I’ve cried countless times just wanting to give up, I’ve watched a country fall apart as the rest of the world remained silent, I’ve spoken to people who don’t even know what Syria is, I’ve spoken to people who think Syria is Afghanistan, I’ve yelled, I’ve been angry, I’ve hated, but most of all, I’ve lost my freedom.

You see, my ability to run isn’t remarkably dependent on my fitness level, it is more dependent on my ability to free myself and just run. Now, I am a terrible runner, and I can’t do that anymore. I am no longer free.

I am constantly checking my phone, computer, and email. When I’m not doing that, I am thinking about all of my Syria projects. Every possible action I can do in my day has been consumed by Syria. I think about Syria when I wake up, eat, listen to music, drive my car, visit my parents, watch TV, and when I run. I am constantly thinking about the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.

Oppression is defined as, “prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or control”, and as, “mental pressure or distress”. While I am not in a war zone under constant shelling, thankfully, knowing that there are people dying, starving, being raped, tortured, and shot as we speak causes my great distress. To know that no matter what I do, I will never be able to take away the pain and suffering the Syrian people have felt greatly distresses me. To know there are child amputees who will likely never get a prosthetic gives my great distress. These are things I think about constantly, and so does every Syrian Expatriate.

When the city was Qusayr was lost to Hezbollah, I cried. I didn’t just cry, I blamed myself for it. At some points in the revolution, I was so desperate for a solution that I began to fantacize being kidnapped by the Syrian regime knowing that this would result in me being tortured, raped, and many other terrible things. But I didn’t care. I was so desperate for anything that I thought, “If I were kidnapped as an American, maybe they would speak out, maybe they would come and save the Syrian people”. I was willing to make that sacrifice if it meant that the people of Syria would be saved. But I am also 21 years old. Thoughts like these don’t come to 21 year olds. 21 year olds are supposed to enjoy every second of life, I work and worry every second of mine.

The Syrian people, and non-Syrians who also feel strongly about the revolution, live and breathe the fight for freedom. We have internalized the revolution so much so, that a gain for the Syrian people, feels like a gain for us. A loss for the Syrian people feels like a loss for us. We feel it, we think about it, and yet, anything we do to help is only a drop in the bucket.

We live in a free country where we are free to do whatever we want. So, we have freedom. But, we also live a life of constant worry, sadness, anger, frustration, heartache, and, worst of all, helplessness, held hostage by a regime that is given de facto permission to destroy an entire people and country. You can ask any Syrian if they have sacrificed since the revolution has started, and while they can give you varying monetary amounts, they can all tell you they’ve lost their lives as they knew them before. They will also tell you that they will likely never be able to go back. Because they have seen so much that life will just never be the same. You can’t just see 1000 dead children and go about your life like nothing has changed. And after the war, there is rebuilding, and we will all be there to rebuild. Syria will take up the rest of our lives, and we accept. We want to help a people who have made us who we are today, who have empowered us, who have been so patient while the world has silently watch them suffer and die.

Mentally, we are tired, frustrated, alienated, and disillusioned. So while we live in a free country, we are oppressed by a regime and a crisis happening 11,000 miles away. Every Syrian suffers through this. Every Syrian Expatriate experiences freedom and opression at the same time.

But Nothing Good is Happening?

While Egypt is in turmoil and 35,000 refugees have fled Syria in less than a week, it is really easy to look at it all and feel discouraged. It is even easier to contemplate giving up on both situations entirely. While it looks like nothing good is happening, I would like to let you know that many good things are happening. Not to say that we should stop paying attention to the bad things, but we should give some of our attention to the good things. They do deserve our attention as well. I love lists, so here’s a list:

1. The revolutions we think are dying today, are more alive than ever.

While everything looks pretty grim, all that has gone on recently shows that these revolutions will not die out easily. 100,000+ Syrians have died, and the Syrian people are still at it. The Egyptian people have endured massacres, moved forward, backward, up, and down, and they are still not giving up on freedom. Our revolutions have not only withstood the test of time, they have persevered through the extreme hardship, death, destruction, and so on. Even more beautiful, our revolutionaries still smile. Despite all that they have seen and experienced, they still have enough hope, joy, and strength to smile.

2. The children of the revolution are not lost.

Of all those who do suffer because of the revolutions, children probably take the biggest hit. Children cannot go back to school, have lost their homes, parents, family members, and their childhood. However, these children have not lost their innocence, hope, and strength. The children of our revolution continue on. They still play together, work together, smile together, have fun with each other, and they still have hopes and dreams for the future. Furthermore, according to statistics, 255 babies are born every minute all over the world. A new generation of gems is coming. What we do today, will be who they are tomorrow. Things may look dim now, but we are not working for the now, we are working for the later. A later that belongs to them.

3. Our revolutions are one of the biggest acts of love ever.

Our revolutions challenge the current world order, not to change today, but to change tomorrow. We all knew the revolution was not going to be easy. The 1982 Hama Massacre, 40 years of oppression, and disappearance of relatives who spoke out against the regimes was a strong indication of that. Yet, we embarked on the revolution anyway. We did so beacause we love our countries, our people, our family, and the new generation, so much so, that we sacrifice our comfort and our entire lives to fight for them and provide freedom for them. Take a minute to think about that type of love, that level of love, and what that love and dedication means. Internalize it.

So while we can focus exclusively on those lost, detained, and tortured, to our own detriment, it would behoove us to pay attention to what we are fighting for, who we are fighting for. While the lack of response from the international community, division of people, and bickering among people is outrageous and discouraging, think about all the people you’ve met because of the revolution, all the good you’ve done since the revolution started, how you’ve changed since the revolution started. I don’t know about you, but I do know that I needed saving, and Syria saved me. Not only did Syria save me, Syria propelled me. Syria made me stronger, better, smarter, wiser, and happier.

Maybe Syria did the same for you. That alone, that personal impact that so many people have experienced, is enough reason to keep going.

Staying positive is hard when you’re surrounded by death, destruction, and devastation with no end in sight. But, remember that when you smile and hold hope, despite all that pain, the revolution lives on. Because the revolution we see today takes place in the countries of Syria, Egypt, and throughout the Middle East, but its heart and soul lives within you.

Photo courtesy of http://p4.img.cctvpic.com/program/newshour/20120823/images/1345701349695_1345701349695_r.jpg

Photo courtesy of http://p4.img.cctvpic.com/

I am Activism and So Can You

Let’s talk activism.

Definition: The policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring out political or social change.

If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard, “No matter what I do, it will never be enough to change the situation in Syria”, I’d be a billionaire. Yup, billionaire.

I don’t know who keeps asking people to come up with a one shot solution to Syria and carry it out on their own, but I’d really wish they’d stop putting the idea that you’ve only helped if you’ve fixed all of Syria. If everyone had this mentality, then no one would have done, or would ever do, anything. The millions of dollars that have been raised for Syria, awareness campaigns, conferences, think tanks, and policy changes would have never been collected, established, or happened. Syrians would be dying, losing their homes, family members, and their entire lives, and no one would even know.

But even beyond large scale activism, a lot of good work gets done.

On a smaller scale, that sweater you gave away that one time six months ago would have never kept that ten year old girl in a refugee camp warm during the winter. That pair of shoes would never have made it to that boy who loves to run around, his only source of happiness, and protected him from getting blisters, or worse, on his feet. Those ten dollars you don’t really remember donating would not have provided that starving family with a meal for the day.

Ya, your donation didn’t stop the war, prevent people from dying, or rebuild the city of Homs, BUT it helped someone who really needed it. Most importantly, it was done as a team effort. From the people who donated, to the people who transported and distributed the donations, it was all a collective effort. Because no one can do it all alone. But together, we can make a lot of good things happen. We can clothe those who fled their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs, we can feed the hungry, we can heal the wounded. We just can’t do it alone.

Activism isn’t about saving Syria, or any other country. It’s also not coming up with and executing the one solution to fix it all, although that would be incredible. It’s about doing what you can, to effect change, however you can. Most importantly, and most overlooked, is that it’s about changing and positioning yourself in such a way that you can become a global citizen who effects positive change, no matter how small.

You can do activism, but you can also BE activism. Because activism is more than just fulfilling tasks. You become activism when making change becomes your purpose and your disposition becomes determination to make change- big or small. Every activist, humanitarian, and person has a role, it’s just a matter of figuring it out.

So go out and do something, big or small! Take a risk, try something new, and don’t be afraid to propose something that’s a little out there. You can raise millions of dollars, perform free surgeries, make a movie, start a blog, make yourself someone who can help when it’s time to rebuild, or whatever you want. You decide how you want to be an activist, and there is no wrong way to do it. When a people have nothing, they need everything, giving you the opportunity to help with anything. Do whatever you can, however you can, just make it happen.

If you would like to get active and don’t know how, need help with your ideas, or just want to give me some feedback, please feel free to email me at nshakfeh@gmail.com

Image