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Let’s go back to the beginning… Syria.

18 Aug

I started going to Syria from the beginning of the revolution. Looking back, it was the beginning of me truly living. I could never put into words the enlightening feeling there is of being surrounded by such an abundance of love, strength and passion in life.

Mid 2011 – Early 2012: While it was the beginning of a horrendous continual spiral downwards for Syria, it was also a time of unity, love, welcoming and laughter; emotions I was blessed to be a part off; looking back at the Syria I enter now I truly appreciate every moment in the beginning with all I got to experience.

I entered the country through routes unimaginable, mountain terrains across Lebanon, tunnels, running for your life through land mine territories, along with the paths that felt like a walk in a park which were somehow more worrying to me that a war zone was a few footsteps away. The stories are endless but I know many Syrians can tell plentiful tales than I ever could this one, and tragically many did not live to tell the tales of these dangerous crossings.

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The early demonstrations in Syria

When I finally reached the other side, I would be greeted with smiles, hugs, kisses, pulled in every direction by the locals of whatever village I arrived to. It was a joyous time in many ways. I would walk through the streets with the locals learning all about their life, discovering everything with little worry of those surrounding me. The shabiha were very present but I felt at such ease and comfort always of the men of the newly formed Free Syrian Army. This was a time when there was true unity across Syria in opposition to the government forces.

There was a beautiful energy among the people, even with the murders & imprisonments happening across the country.

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The early demonstrations in Syria

The streets would be full of cheering in the newly liberated areas, children playing in the streets as they should be, and then there were the demonstrations. What a wondrous time that was. I am sure you know what I am talking about if you were there. You remember that energy, the songs, the dancing, the chanting, the children clapping and dancing with their parents, handmade flags whisking through the crowds, in the villages the dry rice would be falling over you as the women sang and threw it over the crowds in joy. When I would arrive I would be treated like royalty! The people had so much love to show me, the welcoming was incredible. Most of my footage was terribly shaky as I couldn’t stop myself from having a little dance as I waved my way through the crowds. The drums would beat all around me and the sound of freedom songs filled the air. My ribs would ache continually as I traveled for weeks and months across the country and the laughter would be never-ending. I wish I had all my hard drives with me right now to share so much more.

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An early demonstration in Syria

Most of my travel would be done on the back of a pick up truck or a motorcycle, and at times whatever makeshift means of travel could be put together. I could travel across open roads freely in many ways while in FSA territory. There was a great sense of freedom as I could feel the wind against me as we traveled and I could film at ease with the locals welcoming nature.
We feared shelling, warplanes and snipers loyal to the Assad regime, but looking back in comparison to what has become now, the escalation is absolutely shocking.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there was tremendous tragedy, pain across the country that will always haunt, human life lost with no just reasoning. While the demonstrations would take place, there would be those times when government loyal forces would storm the area and kill as many as they could in their path of terror. Indiscriminate bombings, civilians murdered continually, loved ones constantly disappearing. The FSA took care to protect the civilians demonstrating, that was their job and the origins of why they were formed.

I don’t wish to go into all of that however, not in this moment. I mention this just incase anyone reading this things it was some sort of fun party in Syria; it was far from it. The realities were ridiculously dangerous and the war crimes unbearable to recall as they continue to be.

My reasoning for writing this is simply because I have continued to work in Syria to this day I write this and I have witnessed every step of the revolution, and the now chaos the country has descended into. Things are very different as we all know, week by week things change fast on the ground. Sadly the atrocities continue; in vast numbers with many different groups committing crimes now. Sadly I am not free to roam the streets and talk with locals as I wish. Sadly I cannot be known as a journalist or even humanitarian upon working with my charity there, and each time I enter the country, only my eyes show knowing there are few I can trust. I get such an overwhelming sense of sadness in these moments I travel. A once ‘freedom’ in many ways, to now a need to stay invisible. I feel weighed down at times with sadness from what has become of Syria lately and sit in this moment and recall so many cherished memories and cherished souls I have encountered.

I share this because I miss that unity. I miss those days, although I wish those days never had to exist, but I miss the beauty and glow of the Syrian people.

I have had a very busy year to date, but mostly have been away from social media as I just have not had the time to check in on it, but also at times because it saddens me deeply too. If I take a quick scroll through my news feeds on accounts I see so much hate, I just feel further sadness. There is enough destruction happening physically without now using social media as a method to spread hate too.

I do also have so much love, and you know who you are across the world who take their time to think of me and show me love frequently. That is never forgotten.

Smiles in Syria!

Smiles in Syria!

Stop and think, please. What has hate ever done for our world? What has hate ever done for you personally? What is that going to do for the chaos that has become Syria? I know a lot of it comes from places of anger and emotions, but focus those emotions towards love, towards sharing peace. That is how you can make a difference for Syria, for humanity.

Don’t waste time fighting over political movements in the country, the endless list of groups fighting across the country and the ever so complex who is who amidst this. Take your time on something in which you can and will make a difference, humanity. Remember that energy in the beginning, the love true Syrians have, that energy that was there in the beginning, it is still there in many, the people are weak in spirit but you can give them strength across the world to hold on to that love they had.

I still believe in Syria. I still believe in the people of Syria and I have ever reason to. My safety is in their hands to this day, to this day Syrians across the country protect me, give their lives to care for me. I will never be able to return the favour of what the people of Syria do for me, and I know the spirit of those who I have loved who has passed on are always surrounding and protecting me.

We all want to walk the streets of Syria freely once again, we all want to smell the sweet jasmine in the gentle evening breeze once again, and globally we need to be a part of the change.

There is no question hate is spreading across our world, the illness as I refer to it as called racism and religious intolerance from lack of understanding is on the rise. We have very sick people in our world who live by prejudice, and the only way to fight this is through a peaceful means. Through education, patience, and sharing peace and love in every step of our life we can teach those less educated about our world so much.

A wall in Kafranbel, Idlib, Syria

A wall in Kafranbel, Idlib, Syria

Weapons whether physical or verbal bring us pain and take us all to a dark place. Our world is big enough for us all to share. Our world has beautiful experiences we should all be able to share and I may be a dreamer, but our dreams are as alive as we make them, and I would prefer to journey through this life focusing on the love and sharing those experiences.

We are all humans, remember that. We are all part of the destruction across our world and we are all responsible for change. We all can be better, more loving souls every day and we need to work on that progression. Syrians taught me how to love, how to have inner peace, how to become a better person. Syrians showed me what love truly meant in this world with their kindness towards me, a strange to them in the beginning. Syrians deserve our love, and they deserve us to be showing the human face of the country much more.

With that I shall close on another note, from October I will no longer be working for mainstream media, I will be truly freelance again as I was in the beginning. I have always stayed freelance, but been drifting to too many contracts that do not give me satisfaction in what I do. I will no longer play a part in the role of the media giving minimal time with no care for the human story. I know that what the public want to see more, yet mainstream media continues to lack behind the public calling.

I will continue what I do but I will do so for anyone who wishes to take the time to see a human side of a story and I shall only be sharing human, civilian only stories from now on. If mainstream media wishes to take my stories they can do so as it is without editing my stories in any form; not that I have ever allowed anything from me be distorted to become a lie. I need to get back to human only stories as I began. These are the stories that matter in our world, the people deserve a voice. I ask you to do the same and together let’s keep peace and love spreading in our world and let’s keep the face of humanity alive.

Thank you for reading this if you have got this far… Truly thank you.

Peace and Love always…

Yasmin x

Atmeh Refugee Camp, Syria.

11 Dec

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.