Syria : Male Anguish

As it is Father’s day, I wanted to focus on a few issues the Syrian men are facing. While none of this is new, it is just not spoken about as much as I believe it should be.

Photography - Yasmin Al Tellawy - Syria

Syria – Men in Syria laugh and joke together, humour being something Syrians are well-known for.

Today thousands of children are without their father’s. Today thousands of children from Syria are not only without their father’s, but many have been witness to graphic visions of their father’s and loved ones deaths.

While we are all aware many men who have lost their lives to the conflict in Syria have been soldiers, giving their lives to fight for their country, fighting for what they see as protecting their family; there are thousands of men who have lost their lives while trying to just stay alive and not partaking in any activity of the war.

Photographer-Yasmin Al Tellawy  - Syria (3)   Photography - Yasmin Al Tellawy - Syria (1)
Syria – Some of the young men in Syria

Countless numbers of men are currently under arrest in Syria, their fate unknown, suffering horrendous torture that is unspeakable off for the majority of men should they survive. Some men have disclosed details of their ordeals of diminishing humiliation  in prisons in Syria with me, shocking accounts of crimes past any form of comprehension.

When I am with men in Syria, I am yet to hear someone not wish for death instead of being arrested and tortured because they know just how bad it is. As I am sure most of you know, many will always say they keep a bullet for themselves; I even met one man of the Free Syrian Army who shot his best friend as he was being dragged away by a government militia known as the shabiha, telling me that his best friend would have done this for him also – to take your own life, or that of a loved ones just to escape torture is a small glimpse into just how much suffering these men undergo.

Not only are these men tortured to extremes that no-one will comprehend unless they have experienced such a horrendous ordeal, they are subject to sexual violence. This is something that few men will ever speak off feeling such shame, but it is used rather commonly within torture in Syria. While it is no secret that men are subject to such violence, it is just spoken off rarely. Many men in Syria share with me that they even believe that men are raped as much as women in the war if not more.

Men lack the support to deal with such abuses, men are to be seen as strong humans especially in the Middle East so support networks are lacking for men who have suffered such horrific crimes.

Some men have been known to committed suicide since the violence in Syria, mainly due to the fact that they are unable to provide for their wife and children anymore. Unable to help them, unable to find work, unable to protect them.

Men of Syria are extremely determined unlike most cultures, Market Street of Zaatari Refugee camp in Jordan being a prime example of the entrepreneurship skills of the Syrian men, however opportunities are lacking.

Photographer-YasminAlTellawy (61) Photographer-YasminAlTellawy (60)
Market street, Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan

The men of Syria are not only subject to severe torture and sexual violence they also bear all the pressures of providing for their families. The young men are also facing pressures for choosing to not fight in Syria. Many men do not wish to fight in Syria, but many are increasing finding a problem with this telling them they should be in Syria fighting for their country.

I remember close to the beginning of the war in Syria being with young men who had joined the Free Syrian Army, watching them as they chanted songs of revolution on their way to frontline battles, but I could see their fear underneath it all, I could see these young men’s worries behind their eyes. Now I meet the same young men, few off whom are still alive, if not severely injured, and they are hardened soldiers, a natural progression of any war of course, but I do wonder what their future shall be if they are lucky enough to stay alive to see the end of the war in Syria; A country steeped in deep history and culture.

Photographer-Yasmin Al Tellawy  - Syria

Syria – Brothers in war. Both suffered serious injuries while fighting for the Free Syrian Army.

The long list of issues facing men, women and children of Syria is ever-increasing.

A generation of children are to grown up without fathers, mothers, and without both parents in many cases. A generation of children who will never know their fathers past tales of war and tragedy.

Syria is a human tragedy. These are human beings, fathers, mothers, children, brothers, sisters, friends, loved ones, people just like you and I in this world. People whom once had lives like you and I, jobs, homes, everything just as you and I can have an opportunity off. Syrians seem to have become numbers, daily figures of death, injured and tragedy. One life is too much to be lost in war, but in Syria there are a minimum of 93,000 (according to official UN numbers) killed, which is most definitely much less than the actual death count to date, never mind those missing, under torture, and of course the millions homeless and having fled the country.

Photographer-Yasmin Al Tellawy  - Syria

Syria – Once a university student, turned Free Syrian Army soldier shot in the neck, now paralysed from the neck down with some movement in one arm only

Talk of weapons, politics and all that is without questions extremely crucial to discuss is pushed to the top of the priority list with humanizing the war in Syria secondary. These are lives that are being destroyed and lost every day. These are lives of human beings, each soul has a name, a story just as important as the other in this world.

Rape in Syria

Rape has always been a dominate weapon in war. Rape in any circumstance is a horrendous, disgusting act; when you add the violence in rape that happens within a war, it brings it to yet another sickening low act that is beyond the imagination. Rape and sexual abuses are committed frequently in Syria, however are highly under reported.

Rape has always held a stigma attached to it of shame in the Middle East and through religion this is heightened. Rape holds a stigma wrongly attached to it worldwide of course. In the Muslim culture at times with rape cases, the victims can often be forced to married their rapist, have their children, and do not have a voice in this matter. They are given a feeling of shame. Rape in war currently from Syria has brought a business of selling these victims as brides, trafficking rings have been set up, a money-making trade has been made out of these victims from Syria.

What I will also point out as many people misunderstand Muslim culture, this is not how every Muslim feels about rape, or deals with the crisis happening with this, like any culture and religion there are the good and bad within it. There are Muslims assisting these victims as much as they can in the right way too.

Rape in Syria is currently happening not only to females, but males also, however, males will never speak about this matter tragically to get the help they require.

Girls suffering from rape; and I do want to emphasise girls are in need of serious help, some cases are even as young as 7 years old (I have personally dealt with one case at this age), with age of cases I have dealt with mostly from Syria are predominately between 11-20 years old. Not only are these girls raped there is a great deal of violence within the rape, many have already witnessed horrific atrocities happening, some have witnessed their own loved ones being killed and are then raped, abused and tortured in highly intrusive sexual manners. Brutality which includes being prodded with a hot rod in their genital region, mice being used are commonly reported as being inserted into these victims, and many other disturbing, and brutal methods of torture are being used to harm these victims.

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Many girls are scared and try to hide it from their own loved ones where possible, they are living with this shameful feeling within themselves. The suffering they have gone through with this horrendous situation, to then in some cases to find they are pregnant at times and are also being sold as brides.
These victims feel worthless, like they are unable to marry, have children, they are feeling like their life is over and in many cases wishing for death to knock upon their door as they can see no life ahead of them. Some organisations are providing what they feel is assistance by selling these girls as brides as a charitable act.

I have two particular cases that are strong in my memory always. One being what I previously touched on briefly in my last blog, and another being a girl so scared from her religion and family, even though I knew her own family would have assisted her, she turned to religion heavily, not allowing any men to see her at all, and covering everything, even her hands if she went out anywhere, her own mother did not wear a headscarf on normal occasions. I was lucky to be able to meet her to assist her in the appropriate way so she no longer had to keep this all in her mind.

We have problems now with trafficking of Syrian girls, some due to them being raped and deemed worthless, some as their families feel they are doing right marrying them off from a life in a refugee camp. There are many reasons for this. There is a major problem of girls being used as prostitutes, girls being dumped when unwanted in certain Arab countries and thrown into brothels. The problems happening currently are out of control and need better assistance from our world to be stopped.

Can you imagine being a child, having watched your family be murdered to then be raped repeatedly & graphically tortured in the most revolting ways imaginable, to then be possibly sold as a bride or used as a prostitute? I am sure you fail to imagine this or connect to this on any level. I remember turning 13 and recalling worrying about whether my school bag would have been cool to fit in with the cool kids, worry about my hair style, running around in fields picking wild raspberries. I am sure most of you have many childhood stories of your ‘worries’. Can you imagine being back in that age and thinking of the graphic rape you have just suffered through, the loved ones you have lost and feeling unable to speak, and then if you possibly do speak, the chances are you will end up in a wealthy Arab state as an extra wife, or used as a prostitute. This is what is happening in many instances right now as you read this.

Rape is now being committed by both sides of the fighting in Syria. It is used as a weapon of war for many reasons. Reasons that I would like to think the majority of us will never be able to adhere to such comprehension. What we need to focus on primarily is getting these victims the help they need, not judging them upon their sect of religion from Syria, or which side may have committed the crime and so forth.

Sadly I personally cannot stop rape crimes being committed in our world, but I do know what we can do as humans who should care for humanity and take the appropriate steps to dealing with rape in war. We can assist these victims in the appropriate manner without judgements of religion, culture or any of the barriers in our world.

If you have been a victim of rape, you are not a person who should hold shame in any way. You need to know you are a beautiful being in our world and have not done anything wrong. You are someone important in our world. You do not deserve to be treated as a victim who should be ashamed. You deserve the right support for what you have had to tragically suffer through. You deserve protection, care to recover mentally and physically, care without judgements.

I have worked with quite a few rape cases from Syria in the past year, my mind cannot comprehend the trauma these girls have suffered for the simple reasons being I do not, and do not ever wish to understand the minds of these sick individuals and groups committing these crimes. I do find it hard to sleep most nights knowing the monstrous acts that have been shared with me by many victims. I can only think constantly, and I hope many of you will agree with me; what is wrong with our world? Why are we allowing these crimes to happen? What more can we do?

I ask you to focus on what is happening in our world. Syria is facing one of the worst crisis in more recent history. There are many issues happening across our world, I ask you to take action, stand up against these matters, make a change, we can all make a change no matter where we are.

We are all doing something wrong in our world if victims of rape in war are being sold as worthless beings. We are all doing something wrong in our world if we are not opening our eyes & hearts to this matter. We are all doing something wrong if we do not take action to make a change.

Rape is only one of many war crimes being committed in Syria of course, but is the most sensitive and is lacking support. We need to focus on the assistance of victims from the crisis in Syria, and this is not being done enough.

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Children are suffering internally from being witness to barbarity without the appropriate treatment for their future, women without support living in fear of sharing what has happened to them, men who have been tortured in such explicit conduct that bury it so deep internally, the list is truly endless, never mind the injured who are not getting the support they need either. There are so many problems not being addressed sufficiently from the crisis of Syria.

There are organisations of course set up to assist with these victims of rape; however, it is proving ineffective for several reasons, and also depending on how you look at the right way of deal with rape may be.

5-10% of the crimes happening in Syria are reported. There is so much more happening that is not being shown, and we need to work together for humanity to show these crimes, assist with these matters and bring help in the right way. I am shocked constantly speaking to people, general citizens in various countries surprised that I am speaking about a war in Syria who say in shock ‘are they still having problems?’

Please take notice of the crisis in our world.

This is the most sensitive topic within the war to deal with; the point is that we can deal with it and it is time we did.

Truth – Peace – Love.

Helping Humanity, Open your Heart for Syria.

Recently, I have been going through files from Syria in 2012. I came across this picture and it brought back so many memories.

ImageI had gone on yet another trip inside; I was planning on 1-2 days in Aleppo after Idlib, this was at the beginning of the troubles in Aleppo, before it went to mainstream media, when it was still very much in the hands of the regime and not the opposition. I decided to go into the centre, things were very different at the time upon going into the centre, I won’t go into much detail of it, but, there were no Free Syrian Army groups going back and forth at the time, everything was silent of this, everything was with regime checkpoints in the centre, not FSA checkpoints.

About 8 days later, after no communication with those few on the outside who knew what I was working on inside, no emails, no phones, nothing, let’s just say I had landed in a far from safe situation, I was out to Idlib border again,  back to being able to breathe, feel safe for that time frame. I won’t go into great details of everything day to day.

I let kids use my camera when resting, in family homes and so forth, it brings them a moment of joy from the boredom the poor children have to suffer through with no schools, no real freedom for play time and these things kids need. What I didn’t realise was this kid had listened to me speaking about what had happened and was paying close attention to the chats with the adults in the group. He took this snap, this was the moment I had phone communication again and relieved a lot of very worried people on the outside who were starting to think the worst. It was such a joyous moment and this brought me smiles as I reminisce over that trip. It then brings me great sadness.

During that trip, I had witnessed some of the most horrific scenes to date in Syria for me. Things that still haunt me, still shock me, things that I would wish no-one to see or experience.

It started with a 12-year-old girl who had been raped horrendously by what is known as the Shabiha, a militia group loyal to the Syrian regime. The Free Syrian Army had rescued her, she had witnessed her family murdered in front of her own eyes. They took her and continuously raped her, they used mice as part of shaming her, and prodded her with a hot rod type of item. Now, I won’t go into the tragic details of this crime, but you may find it hard to believe. How could anyone do this to a little girl I thought as she shared her horror with me, myself in the moment even in so much shock trying to believe her story. With just her and I in the room, she was being treated for her wounds, she was crying, wishing for death as what man would ever want her, she called herself a monster now, she could never have children, her family are all gone, what did she have to live for she questioned me, the tragedy that was before me was beyond comprehension. I tried to comfort her, I tried to calm her, she lifted her gown and blankets from the hospital bed she lay on and shouted at me to look at her disfigurement.

I had lost any right to question her story she shared with me in that moment as I fought to hold back my every emotion in front of her.

Rape is not something spoken about openly in the Muslim culture; it’s difficult for someone to speak about from any culture, but no culture as difficult as the Arab nations.

Rape is happening more frequently than can ever be documented in Syria currently, including men suffering sexual abuses.

Continuing that trip, there was tragedy after tragedy in all the regions I travelled to. Everyone not without their tragic story to share, places of terror, fear, the unknown that could happen at any moment with the fear of helicopters at the time circling as we would await them dropping out rockets. Descriptions I could never put into words, nor could anyone of what the situation is like inside.

These scenes are only worsening inside now. These tragedies are worsening daily, yet we are approaching 2 years of the troubles in Syria and it only continues to deteriorate while it seems humanity is lost in the world.

I only share this tiny glimpse into one of my trips into Syria as looking back at this file, seeing this picture, and remembering it all, as I do every trip I have made inside, I never forget everyone who helps me, everyone I meet, I just don’t share much publically about it, but I spoke to this little boy this morning and asked him if he remembered the pictures he took on my camera, he said yes of course, he loves my camera he said, and he asked me if I am happier now. I asked him why he asks me this, he said because when he met me I was very sad even though I was laughing and playing with his family. That saddened me even more that this boy, this family that I have not seen again since that trip remembers me, and that little boy takes the time to ask me how I am and if I am happy while his family are in great suffering, lacking food, further lives lost in their family while they lack clothing, blankets and so forth for winter.
I could share a thousand stories and more, as can anyone who has been inside, or any Syrian first and foremost who has suffered – each story is just as important as the other, every human life counts, this is not a statistic; yet this is how most know Syria and it’s tragedy as statistics.

This same trip one of the many families I had met with, a family who took me in for shelter for a short time and fed me, I had given a little girl bracelets as a gift, I always try to carry some small items I could give as gifts to children, I had 2 bracelets she liked, nothing special but she adored them, she asked me what they said, one was peace, one was love, (If you know me, it’s my motto through life and any jewellery I am wearing frequently has this written on it in some way…), so I say to her, Salam (Peace) and Hubb (Love). She said it was so beautiful, and we laughed as I ate with her and her family. I put them around her wrist and she asked me to promise to come and she her again, Inshallah (God willing incase you are not familiar with Arabic terms) I said, and I looked to her family and asked them why are they not leaving as they were in a very dangerous area and it was only a matter of time before it would be hit, I feared for them. This little girl was so precious, so smart, so loving, there was something about her that stuck with me, I think it was because she reminded me of myself when I was her age, she was so beautiful. She came running to me in tears as I was leaving, she was scared I would not visit her again and missed me already she said, and she gave me back the bracelets I gave her. We all were so surprised as the kids love to get gifts and she adored the little bracelets. She said she wanted me to wear them because she wants me to keep the Peace and Love with me as I travelled in Syria to be safe and wanted me to always remember her. After a lot of bickering and giggles, I put the bracelets on and she made me promise her I would never take them off. I never took them off since then. 2 days later I was in a different region and was told that the village was hit badly and there are many injured and killed including many children. Of course my first instinct was to think of Alaa, that little girl, that family who took me in. I requested to go back to that village to see what had happened, my heart sank as I returned to a now destroyed village. I went to the house that was where I sat days previously and laughed with a family, that house was rubble now. We asked around what happened, tried to find information, most fled to refugee camps so I presumed they had left there too. A man in the village remembered me, he was a neighbour of the family and had sat in for dinner with us, he told me to come with him, he took me to a graveyard, to Alaa’s grave. That little girl, just days prior I laughed with was killed as she was buried in rubble in her home. To this day I can’t believe it, but I don’t look at those bracelets the same anymore and I certainly never did take them off, until recently as they were getting badly damaged so I wanted to protect them to make sure I always had them, I replaced them with a small peace & love bracelet I can always wear to remember her.
Peace & Love
This is a frequent story in Syria sadly. It just hurts more as it would any human I would like to think when you meet the people personally, it adds a different level of upset to the situation.

The beauty in the hearts of the Syrian people is one that I cannot ever falter. It is not one that anyone will ever understand unless they have travelled to Syria, or lived in Syria or been working inside. Being any outside to the religion, yet being brought in and welcomed and assisted is something that is lacking great understanding to the outside world. Muslim’s get put under one big title in the world by those who lack education on the religion or live in little bubbles of Fox watching news turning a blind eye to the real world.

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Right now there are millions of humans suffering across our world, from many countries, cultures, religions. Right now though, Syria is suffering the worst humanitarian crisis possible.

No-one can imagine the suffering the people are going through, the tragedy that has happened and is happening. You see about 10% if you are lucky through the media. A lot more needs done.

We are here on this earth for humanity, to help one another in need. It is not about religion, not about race or anything alike, this is about humanity.

I am asking you for humanity, to please help in any humanitarian way you can. Please open your eyes, please donate what you can – financially, clothing, blankets, anything else to a local group that you trust is doing great work inside and / or in the refugee camps surrounding Syria. If you need advice on trusted groups in your country please get in touch I will be happy to guide you as there are sadly many who are profiting from war as always happens and cannot be trusted too, so please be sure to verify donations carefully. As some of you may know, I am starting my own organisation, and have received many donations of medical supplies, clothing and so forth to get through to those in need. I will not be ready to launch my organisation official until March roughly, but if you do wish to pass anything through I can direct it through me if this helps for those who know me. My organisation will be a different way of involving the world in bring aid to those in need, it will not be limited to Syria, it will be a worldwide organisation, however in the first year the prediction is we will only be aiding Syria through it.

Be thankful for all you have, for that phone call you were able to make today, for that cup of coffee you made yourself that you must have every morning or else you will have a conniption. Be thankful for life, for your children, your wife and your husband if you are lucky to have found love in this form. Be thankful for that bowl of cereal you had, for that lunch date you are going to have, for that vacation you are going on. Be thankful for the water running freely from your tap, for the joy of being able to sit in comfort and read this right now without worry.

Please don’t use the excuse well it’s not my country, they are not my family, they are not my people. This is disgusting to say and sadly I have heard this too many times for my liking. We are one in this world; we should always be reaching out a helping hand to another.

We live blessed lives, even your worst day is your best day, believe me. You are alive, that is enough to be thankful for, and with that, being alive means you are a human in this world and our duty as human’s are to help one another in need.

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I cannot fathom on any level what it would feel like to lose my child, to lose my father, my mother, my loved ones through horrors of war, and in such horrific and painful circumstances. I cannot nearly imagine how I would feel if my child was raped, tortured, beaten to death and worse. I am sure you cannot either. I have seen what it feels like for others first hand to face this, others who once had a normal life, a husband they would kiss goodbye to as they left to work, kids they would open the door to as they came home excited and playful after a day at school begging to go play before dinner, your everyday life, taken away from you, and if you are lucky to be alive still, you get to go and live in a dirty refugee camp, lacking all forms of aid.  Think about it, open your eyes.

Live a good honest life, please be more than what the world is conforming to be, cheating, lies, destruction and so forth. Please be more. Stand up for humanity; stand up as a human being. Spread Peace & Love, this starts in your heart and spreads one little bit at a time.

I share little glimpses here and there of small stories just to give a glimpse into a humanised side of things in Syria. If you are on my mailing list I share a lot more, but will from now on try to blog a lot more…

Be Truth, Be Peace, Be Love, Be Inspiring.

With Peace & Love,

Yasmin

Atmeh Refugee Camp, Syria.

Atmeh Refugee camp, Idlib, Syria.

I want to share a in a small and highly condensed manner a visit to Atmeh refugee camp. Bare in mind when reading this, I have visited Atmeh on countless occasions.

FILE00046 copyAtmeh Refugee Camp, Syria

Current estimates from Atmeh on their count of refugees here are around 12,000, however, that varies depending on who you speak to – showing just how disorganised this camp is.

There is no official count of people staying in this refugee camp. There are no records of those at the camp, and there will be no change in this any time soon.

There are various aid groups, organised by individuals, made up of Syrians around the world raising funds, collecting vast amounts of medical supplies, clothing, blankets and so forth for this camp, I myself have even attended some fundraising events for these things, yet inside the camp these efforts are not to be seen.

I spent about one hour just walking around the camp at first to gather my bearings and understand what was happening here.

As I walked through the camp, I could look to my far left and see a man urinating in the not too far distance, a lady squatting to use the toilet behind a walk erected as some form of bathroom facility, but of course lacked any privacy. In this area, the stench of faeces & urine was a little much for me to handle.

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Part of the toilets set up in Atmeh full of faeces / A puddle of urine gathered from the make shift toilets

On continuing my walk, we see a young girl of 6 crying, the man with me at this moment spotted her first and we rushed over to her aid, we asked her what was wrong, she was lost. She had been wandering lost trying to find her mother at their tent again after going to get some food. We spent some time calming her down and locating her family; she was not far from them, but again, just a small indication of the disorganisation.

As anyone will know who has entered a refugee camp, you are fast to gather a vast number of followers, the children gather in great numbers and follow closer than your own shadow, my shadow started calling for me to follow them, and so I did. They took me to another section of the camp where a family had found a snake in their tent. The families begin to share their stories with me of their encounters with snakes entering their tents, a common occurrence for many.

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Some of the children in the refugee camp in Atmeh

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2 examples of the snakes being found in the tents of refugees

As they share their stories of escape from regions across Syria, yet another family arrives after a long journey from Syria. They women are already in tears upon arrival and reluctant to speak with me as they were so scared & confused with what has happened to them. One lady tries to speak with me, but turns her back to me mid-sentence as she could no longer contain her outburst of tears. The men of the group come to share to me what has happened, more family members had been lost, their homes shelled and destroyed, everything lost, understandably a highly traumatic time for them as they arrive to a stench ridden camp after falling asleep in their own beds the previous night.
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This lady had just travelled from Hama to Atmeh, she had to turn away as she broke down in tears after trying to gather her emotions to talk to me.

One another walk through the camp, I am drawn to a woman sitting alone on a small rock outside her tent. I could see the distance & deep sadness in her eyes as she stared into a dark abyss. I had to sit down with her to speak with her; her 4 young children appear to join us as we talk. The lady had come from Homs 12 days prior to our meeting, she travelled from Homs to Hama at first where she had other family after her home had been destroyed, sadly that day there was an air attack on this village and was left with no other choice but to try to get to Turkey to seek refuge – 4 days later after a tiring & terrifying journey she was in Atmeh at the camp. Loved ones lost, others left behind with their destiny’s unknown. The lady appeared to be in pain also so I enquired as to what was wrong. She had kidney stones and was in a lot of pain. After many visits to the field hospital they were unable to give her anything to help her, I took it upon myself to get her the medication she needed. After a short trip to the now rather bustling village of Atmeh compared to my first visits long before there was such a thing as a refugee camp, I had the medication from a pharmacy there, 300SYP (Around $3.50) and we were on our way back to the camp again 30 minutes later, the only problem was it took another 30 minutes to find her again through the maze of tents.

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Interviewing the refugee mentioned above, I gave her children each a lollypop, the smallest little thing, yet the gratitude and joy it brought is indescribable. The true appreciation, care, & love of the families in Syria is a beautiful experience that no-one can understand truly until you spend time with them to understand what I am talking about.

As night fell, I spent time at the field hospital; a young nurse struggled to deal with the amount of people turning up at moments asking for bottled water because they were sick from the water, appearing with sick babies, children malnourished and very ill in appearance. I commend this young man for all he is trying to do, he stays at the camp, and helps out of the goodness of his heart.
I was compelled to spend a few hours there assisting matters and learning from him his experiences at the camp. Lack of medication the largest problem, medication being given for the wrong problems another.

It all led me to wonder, where on earth is all this aid that I keep hearing is being sent in, yet I don’t see it ever there? Something doesn’t make sense that’s for sure and without question there is as great disorganisation on the outside as the inside.
You can see limited amounts that have been donated previously from groups in various countries, tents, some medicine, when asking the majority living there they have the same answer, they don’t see any aid. There are various banners that have been hung by groups to show their advertisements of what I presume are their work, but I don’t see anything else past the banners.
On driving through the village, I see 5 British Ambulances sitting in a condition far from how they would have once left their destination, sitting on driveways where FSA and others reside, but certainly not in use as ambulances.

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An FSA leaders new car in his driveway / Just one of the ambulances sitting for the wrong use.

In Atmeh there are at least 6 opposition groups, I am reluctant to call them all FSA (Free Syrian Army) groups, as they most certainly are not. The number of groups there continually rises.

One small village of importance in many ways. A safe haven for many escaping terror from their home villages; also a haven to foreign fighters in need of housing in Syria.

I have known Atmeh for quite some time, but sadly, I have watched some men change from the more innocent, poor men they were, to the growing powerful, yet uneducated in what they strive to achieve.

Various leaders plead their cases of we need help, we need aid, we need money – nobody helps us and so forth. These same leaders now in possession of good cars, from BMW’s to Mercedes brought in from outside of Syria, the same men who did not even know how to drive months prior. Dressed smart now, equipped with good weapons, their houses getting repairs and luxuries added to them. The sad problem with this is that there are many groups who have nothing, who need help, but finding who to trust is not an easy task nowadays in Syria until you see things with your own eyes.

One of the leaders was unable to afford a pack of cigarettes I was told before the revolution, now; he has a rather nice BMW in his drive. How? Well, he helps to find housing for the foreign extremists entering from Turkey, that’s partly how he made his money. That day, that same leader had held a gun to another leaders head ready to pull the trigger in an argument the both declined to share more about.

I am told stories from those working for the opposition about some aid, trades being made for weapons and so forth. Such things would not be shared with me of course by any leaders.

By all means, please don’t take me wrong. I am not here to pick sides. I care for the humanity and truth in all of this and nothing more. I only share what I see, what I know in truth and have found with my own eyes. This will anger many, I’m sorry for that, but facts are facts.

If the groups could get their act together in Atmeh they could be doing great things. Most of the young men are bored, sitting around smoking and on the internet when they get a chance for access. Some of them want to help the refugees more, want to build toilets, help in many ways, but they are stopped from doing so by those higher up, due to the clashes of various groups in Atmeh. Other members in the FSA say the refugees damaged the toilets (2 in particular that were meant for thousands to use) and that some steal and other tales that no-one had anything to actually back up other than tales that were Chinese whispers. Some young men now just happy to be on a weekly salary.

Understand one thing from this if you are not fully up to date on the matters of Syria. This is just one village, one example, by no means are all the FSA like this, each village, each area of Syria has its own different situation happening. The only common factors amongst the areas of Syria are that numbers of groups and different kinds of groups in the opposition are growing continually.

There are countless numbers of displaced internally. Each has their own tragic story to tell, each in dire need of help. There are many good people trying their best inside and outside of Syria trying to help, but it gets outweighed at times by the corruption inside. It is a very difficult thing to contain your emotions inside when interview those in crisis and seeing all that you see inside.

Sadly, like any war situation, it is the innocent families who end up in the greatest harm, there are those who get poorer and those who gain greater finances within war, a tale that I can only personally wish would stop happening in our world.

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The steady stream of refugees flowing into Atmeh

Memories of these moments at the various camps I have been to, of being trapped through shelling, of trying to recover those from rubble, of dodging snipers, mortar shelling… the stories are endless, are memories that never leave.
But those faces you see of the family members weeping over their lost loved ones, humans – people like you reading this now dismembered, in pieces from explosions, beyond recognition, burned and dumped after torture from a corrupt regime, little children in a puddle of their own blood as it flows from their own neck, women raped in horrendous ways along with men, both too ashamed to speak about their experiences, children afraid to sleep even after a long period of safety, the countless wounded in horrific manners, again – endless stories, but ones that the whole world needs to open their eyes to. I don’t post the graphic images just to respect those who cannot handle look at them. Well, as much as I respect your views, I ask you to look at what is happening to other humans in our world, take a moment and be thankful for all you have, the safety you have, the family you have, some may think well it’s not my country, not my problem. I ask you to rethink that, we should be as one in this world, we should be helping for humanity, we should always have our eyes open and remember that everything in this world has a ripple effect.

Always think of those in need across the world, it is our responsibility for humanity to help one another in this world.

Lessons in Life & Love, from Syria.

The Jewels of Life…

We live in a cold world at the most of times. We live in a societies where cheating, deceits, lies are of no shock to us. We live in a world where rape is the fastest growing crime in many countries. 1 in 3 women will be sexual assaulted in her lifetime, 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted by the time they are 18. We live in a culture at most times where we shove past one another, mutter rude words to strangers under our breath to release our inner problems. We live in a world where we are killing one another in some form or another. We live in a world where human trafficking is a worldwide business totally over 30 billion dollars a year, with around 3 million people being trafficked worldwide, of which around 1.2 million are children. People are killing one another in various countries around the world. People are giving their lives just for a taste of freedom.

Most humans love to turn a blind eye to this small list of world problems, and sadly this truly is a tiny selection of issues around the world.

These are all things that I have to say with deep regret I don’t see changing in my lifetime. It seems these problems are only worsening worldwide. But, we can all do our part to help our world, even if it is just the tiny bubble of life around us, it will make a change.

Now, we are all guilty of having our moments, don’t get me wrong, I am by far no saint. No-one ever will be, but, we certainly can keep ourselves in check.

Recently I have been working within Syria to try to show what is happening to the people within, to try to help with the problems that Syria is facing.

I have of course learned a lot from these experiences, along with all of mine in life. I have been reflecting on all of this in the past week.

In various trips to different areas of Syria during the revolution within, I have watched people die, I have held children in my arms as I have desperately wanted to be able to revive them, I have watched feeling completely empty at the lifeless bodies of young souls taken away for no just reasons. I have watched grown men, young and old go off to clashes and not return alive as they give their heart and soul to fight to protect their loved ones. I have watched the uncontrollable tears as loved ones mourn over the lost corpses with the sound of shelling echo in the air. I have hidden in buildings praying for our lives not knowing where the next shell or rocket may land in complete darkness. I have watched helicopters drop rockets from above and random over villages of people who have little chance of survival. I have listened to a 12 year old tell me how they watched their loved ones being murdered while they are raped as they pray for death.

What does this give me? Perspective of the world we live in. It has proven to me just how cold this world can be. As I watch the tragedy within Syria, and of course, not only Syria is experiencing great crimes, but it is certainly experiencing the worst in this moment of time. Syria however is experience the truth of how cold our world can be as it is still left along with little help in various ways. The world watches as humanitarian crimes continue to be committed.
I wish I knew how to put it into words the things I have seen, the feelings, emotions, thoughts it provokes, but no-one ever would be able to.

Nothing is more precious in this world than love, bonds, truth, honesty, having people around you who truly care for you in the good and bad. Life can be awful short, in any country, even on a perfectly sunny day, tragedy can strike, and I can assure you if that happened, most of us will bear scars of regret, why did I do that, why did I not say this, why, what, and all the rest. I know this will happen.

Why should it take a moment like that to learn the value of love, it shouldn’t. We should value our every moment, treasure the care around us, respect this, forgive, learn from our mistakes that we will forever make through life, let go of resentments, hate, what good is this to add to this cold world around us. Never leave things until it is too late, don’t live in fear, secrets, or lies, live being you with only love in your heart and not only will the world around benefit from this energy, the greatest person to benefit will be you.

I admire many in Syria in so many ways. The bonds they have for one another, how they take care of one another, not only in such a time as now, but in general are beautiful. While of course it is not all like this, but, the majority is like this.

In Western culture, if we had such a crisis, our culture has taught us to lock our doors and take care of ourselves; our culture is much more selfish.

I admire the innocent within people I meet in Syria. Young girls & boys are so respectful, take care of their family, I watched a girl who just turned 17 go to sleep cuddling her teddy bear she was given as a gift. I watch as they help their parents bring up the other children, I watch in awe as they don’t complain.

I think about this when I come back to the my culture, I hear young girls around 14 talking about some guy they just slept with, I watch as they young teens spit on the street, curse like it is the language we are taught in school – maybe it is nowadays, I don’t know. I watch a 16 year old struggle along pregnant with a cigarette in one hand and a young kid already on her arm to an unknown father. I watch as they fight outside of clubs, throwing up on the streets. I look as children bring up children. I watch as much of the youth have no concept of the value of money, care, honesty. I watch the deterioration on a daily basis. Apparently it is ‘cool’ as I was told once to curse, to act like a gangster, to indulge in sexual activities at such young ages.

I think at this point there are too many to blame, parents, culture, media as they admire reality ‘stars’. Class, self-respect, honesty, loyalty are certainly not words of where their meaning exist. This is another topic to write one though.

I ask you to stop in your life for a moment, look around. What can you do different to benefit this world? What small change can you offer this world?

I am not saying everyone needs to go out and give all their money to help a good cause, or get on the first flight to a war zone to help, but if you can help do it. If you know you could change something in your life, in you to better you as a person, do it. Don’t procrastinate.

It may seem that the world is a depressing place from reading this, most run from this type of talk; most prefer to turn a blind eye and just act like they help.

This is not about religion, culture, country you live in, this is about humanity. Help humanity.

Live in love, appreciate what you have around you, don’t complain when you have nothing to complain about, and don’t wait until it is too late. Live in love.

We can all do our part to make the world a beautiful place. There is much beauty around, don’t get me wrong.

I see the tragedy and crimes around the world, but it helps me as a person within because it makes you learn what is important; what is precious. This should be instilled in our hearts though, honesty, love, respect, humanity should be engraved in our hearts.

This may be a little off topic, but I wanted to share this.
I was telling a friend a story the other day, I was in a restaurant, a couple where celebrating 50 years together or up’s and downs but ultimately true love they told me, we all cheered for this in the restaurant. It made me stop and think, what an old culture sadly, this shocks us, yet when you hear he / she cheated, he / she lied etc… are we truly shocked… the answer is no, it is what is common sadly, yet it should not be.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Don’t swim with the other fish in the sea, swim against the tide. Open your heart, open your mind. Open your eyes. Bring more love into this world.

The jewel of life is love.

Yasmin x