I landed in Hatay, Turkey, with my friend Sima on the kind of winter night typical of Anatolia -- cold and rainy. We were heading back to the Syrian refugee camps, and the news we were receiving from the liberated territories was far from positive. The Islamic State of Iraq and Sham or ISIS, the notorious al Qaeda faction operating inside Iraq and Syria, had taken over an entire village and also all ports of entry there. Syrian activists have been systematically kidnapped and murdered by these radical elements.
I spent a few days visiting with the female refugees, mothers and grandmothers who were tired and overwhelmed by the same tragedy that has befallen almost 10 million Syrians. No one in the refugee camp had a good story -- it was all tragedy. Yet I came to see that these women had created a support system that helped them, helped the new arrivals, and recreated (under horrendous conditions) an empathetic civil society. This empathetic society is exactly what Syria will need at the end of this war in order to rebuild itself. Or as one woman said with pride, pointing to the supplies of food, tea, clothes and blankets that are distributed equally to all those in need: "We need to be together to survive this."
These women are not just caring for those in desperate need at this moment; they are preparing themselves to return and rebuild Syria. Umm Samir, who lost both of her hands in the violence, looked at me with a huge smile devoid of sadness and said: "I was a teacher, and once I get better I will go back to my village to build the school that was destroyed, so I can teach the young children of my country once again."
In Jordan, women are busy organizing humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees still in southern Syria, mostly by trying to get food and medicine delivered to surrounding areas. Sara, who belongs to the MILAD volunteering group, provides much needed physiological support to the women refugees. Nada, an engineer, is juggling her work teaching the young Syrian refugees in Irbid and continuing her political work for the Damascus Declaration. Nousha is a young Syrian Canadian who is jointly organizing several conflict resolution workshops for children (together with her Syrian girlfriends -- expatriates from all around the world). The workshops are taking place in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.
Every morning in sunny Beirut, Lebanon, Syrian women from Damascus drive to the Bekaa Valley to help teach, feed, and care for Syrian refugees who have fled from nearby Homs. Massa, Maissa and Ranim, who are there on a regular basis, help empower the younger volunteers and train the instructors to be better teachers and caregivers for the refugee children. Over lunch in down town Beirut, Nora, who organizes fundraising to support projects and schools for women and children, said, "We all need to be committed to the wellbeing of the Syrian children and women."
Another group of Syrian women is heading to Cordoba in Spain, where a dialogue group will be taking place seeking to unite all Syrians into the National Conference. Yet another group of Syrian women, including Raifa from Idlib whose brothers are both being detained in the regime's prisons and who has become an icon of the revolution, are heading to Geneva to deliver a statement about the unity of the Syrian people and the need for a ceasefire. Noura Al Ameer from the National Coalition, and a former prisoner of the Assad regime, is also in the front line of the negotiation team, sharing her vision for the future of her countrymen and herself.
What I have witnessed everyday coming out of these Syrian women has renewed my faith in the Syrian revolution. I have faith that the women of Syria will be the ones to bring about the real change we want to see in our country, and it is in these women that we should place are hope -- and to whom we should be offering our support. We are all Umm Samir, a woman who has lost both of her hand but none of her hope -- and none of her conviction that she will help rebuild her destroyed village, and our nation.
Give us a chance to live. Let's get the ceasefire in order. As Umm Tareq, who is devoting her time to cook for the injured, said, "We all live in hope." What these women teach is that Syrians are not just hoping for a new country -- they are already at work building that country in the refugee camps and communities that will eventually form the foundation of the new Syria.