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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

Islam…

15 Apr

Islam – the most controversial religion & topic in our world right now.I don’t like to turn a story into one that is about me, I like to stay private in my work as I think most will know, so I apologise in advance as I am turning this blog to be one that is about me to get my point across to you.

From the beginning of the crisis in Syria I have continually stayed on the ground with little time out the outside. To this day it remains the same. I have watched first hand this crisis changing, evolving, darkening. One thing has remained the same however; the true good people of Syria have remained loyal to assisting me, supporting me, protecting me, and respecting me.

Most of my time is spent with families. Families who are truly suffering within the war who are trying to cling to their dignity. I have stayed with families through their losses, tragedies, heartache, movements; each struggle that is faced within a war. Even through all of this they insist on caring for me. They insist on taking me in, giving me a place to sleep, feeding me and to this day it is a fight for me to try to give them anything in return.

I have argued with women trying to force me to wash; I have reservations as I do not wish for them to waste what little water they have on me washing when I just do not care when there, yet they force me. Come to think of it maybe that is for their benefit & not mine after all!

I sit with families that have such little food yet with their culture insist on giving all they can to me. I sit with their children who I can see are hungry & unhealthy yet even the children want to force feed me with no thought for themselves.

I am greeted with a love so rare; a love & bond that is indescribable. I am fought over on where I sleep as the children always like to sleep next to me. I am hugged & kissed in overwhelming amounts when I am welcomed back. I am cried over when it is time to say goodbye to a family to move to another area. I have gifts stuffed into every crevice of my bag; kids drawing for me & writing me letters, items now amounting to boxes weighing down my friends on each border awaiting a time I can get everything home.

I am sharing these small glimpses of life because this is the true face of Syrians; this is the true face of Islam. Anyone who has spent time with a Muslim family will know of the kindness; you will know of the bonds & the love created and I am quite sure you have never experienced such kindness, or situations of being so ridiculous full from eating too much with aching muscles from laughter too. I am most certainly not the only one with these experiences naturally, it just seems few speak out in public about it all.

Now, I am sure there will be some rather critical souls reading this who will be seeing me as a promoter of Islam or something alike. I do not promote or support any religion to be quite frank. I have my own spiritual beliefs in life, I simple believe in giving peace & love in all we do. I do have a problem with hate and lack of understanding in this world which makes me feel a need to speak as I am now. I have no disagreements with any religions; only with hypocrisy. I respect anyone living truly to their religion, everyone has their free choice in this world to be who they want through religion or no religion as far as I am concerned.

I do not hide who I am to anyone with my beliefs, and I am accepted for who I am and loved for who I am. Why? Well, the people truly living by Islam do not impose their beliefs upon another and accept another for who they are. As in any religion; it should never be imposed.

When I speak with people about why they still care for me, why they still protect me; they are putting their lives on the line to protect me – a stranger to their family for whom they could all be killed for; they simply do it naturally and find humour in my asking as it is just normal for them to do so and they are completely oblivious to the depths of what they do in caring for me.

It is no secret a lot of the world has a deep fear of Islam. Sadly Islamophobia is rapidly on the rise in every country. I am faced with conversations continually from people whom I can find little respect for when they feel a right to argue me about Islam and why it should be gone from the western world when they themselves have not even spent time with a Muslim; let alone visited a Muslim country. The lack of educated minds in our world is mind-blowing at times.

There is no question that the self-proclaimed Islamic State and other groups alike should be feared. There is no question they are involving themselves in terrorist activities. The thing that is forgotten is that true Muslims are not representatives of them. They know they are not Muslim and their practices are far from the practices that are stated in the Quran. They are simply a terrorist organisation masking under the name of a religion that does not belong to them.  The self-proclaimed Islamic State is a deeply complex matter to understand in itself, I shall leave that one aside for now.

Mainstream media is sadly an instigator for such hate rising in our world. While I work in the industry it does not mean I agree with much of what is done. There needs to be vast change in media & I do hope I see it in my lifetime. The term terrorist has taken a turn in the media to be one that is put into use when it is a person of Islamic birth roots committing the crime. The often happening school shootings across America from born Christians or otherwise are acts of terrorism, the tragic plane crash recently in France was an act of terrorism carried out by an individual, the beheadings of civilians are acts of terrorism, the Syrian regime dropping barrel bombs across Syria are acts of terrorism. There are continually acts of terrorism across our world. Terrorism comes in the form of all religious backgrounds, all colours, all countries.
Please think before you speak; please learn understanding because the hate being spread in our world is more terrifying to me than being in the midst of the most complicated battles within Syria could ever be.

A true person of Islam echoes the kindness & love I mention above on how I am cared for. This is the real face of Islam and this is a majority worldwide.

We are dividing our world. We are placing barriers between religions, the colour of someone’s skin, their country of origin, their sexual orientation & how another chooses to dresses. We are all responsible for the crisis in our world. We are all part of the problem and we all need to be taking steps to bring a change for the better; for the future in our world. We need to be removing these barriers that many have fought against through history to bring unity globally; yet here we are wishing to regress our societies.

I would not still be alive on this day to write this if it were not for the good-hearted souls representing what Islam truly is. In times of trouble in Syria there have been people who fought for my safety, Muslim people, there was no reward for them assisting & protecting me. They did not even want it to be known that it was them who helped me.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are issues within every culture; deep issues that need to be rooted out.  There is no such thing as perfect and everything takes hard work in our world. In the end hard work will always pay off. What we do need is a worldwide unity to tackle these challenges.

Lay down the hate and think. We are supposed to be educated individuals advancing in our world yet we seem to be plunging downhill.

Thank you to the beautiful souls I know worldwide from all religions backgrounds and countries; and a very special thank you always to the true people of Syria for all you do for me.

Paris Marathon for Syria!

2 Apr

This Sunday (6th April 2014), I will be running the Paris Marathon. I am running it to raise funds for the people of Syria, whom need the worlds support to get through this crisis.

I have recently left yet another trip to Syria, yet another one of much heartache, great distress, further problems, severe hunger, lack of health care & medical facilities, the list is endless. If I am not in Syria then I am in a border region where millions of refugees now reside; struggling for survival.

Yasmin Al Tellawy - Syria

Getting my equipment stolen in Syria by this cute little one! Photo credit: Thanks to Minka Nijhuis

I have worked in Syria for over 2 years now, if not in Syria, then in the neighbouring border regions with the Syrian communities. I have witnessed tragedy that I never thought could exist in our world, I have watched scenes that I would never wish upon a soul to see. I have encountered many families, many children who I grew close with in this war after they took me in on my travels inside, offering me all the love a person could dream off and more; many have since passed on.
I have countless stories and experiences of overwhelming pain that families have & are suffering through in Syria.
I could rhyme off a million and more tragic tales from Syria, as can every soul living in the war, and every soul who has spent a great deal of time within the war. I could share heart wrenching images and footage, but I choose not to.

Instead I will tell you of the good within this crisis. I have been blessed with love I never could have imagined existed in our world.  I have been given kindness that is truly indescribable within Syria, from families who have nothing, yet still reach out and want to give to me, want to care for me when I am in their company.
I have seen strength that has inspired me, warmth that has inspired me to be a better person and do more for our world.
That love & kindness inspired me to set up The Truth Peace & Love Foundation. That love and kindness also gave me the strength to deal with many personal challenges in recent years.

Yasmin Al Tellawy

The front lines of SalahAlDin, Aleppo, Syria

Every time I am in Syria I sit in awe as the few families left in some areas in their homes that are ruins, without electricity, heating, food with grief in their hearts somehow reach out to me and want to care for me, a stranger, and one who wants to hear their stories of tragedy they are experiencing. They open their doors with welcome arms and give me what they can, and what safety they can offer to me when undercover in such dangerous situations.
It all may sounds so simple to you reading this, but it is this love that pushes me forward, it is that love that has made me sign up to do something rather silly like the Paris Marathon this Sunday.

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This little girl is full of so much love & too many cuddles! A refugee now from Aleppo, living in Kilis. Photo credits: Max Aderman / Larissa Neick

The Truth Peace & Love Foundation has assisted so many families now, individual cases, and over 300 victims of rape, sexual assault & other sexual related crimes and many more cases. I have been able to watch young girls who were once in tears wishing for an end to their lives now smile and go to school with dreams of great achievements I know they will get.

I owe a great deal of thanks to the people of Syria, they families who assist me when inside Syria; who let me stay with them, who share great deals of love & care to me.

I owe a lot of thanks to those who I work with in each region of Syria, who take much time to care for my safety & have assisted me beyond necessity in times of danger.

I owe much respect to the families who were only civilians in this war who reached out to me in my time working in Syria who have sadly since passed on.

I also owe my deepest condolences to all those who have lost family across Syria, to all those suffering and for being a part of this world, a world where I believe we should all be one; a world where we should all be reaching out to help one another in need.

I see much growth happening, communities coming together for schools, PTSD assistance, prosthetics assistance, fathers getting back into work and able to support their own families again, rescue teams in Syria who are volunteers only who give their lives to rescue civilians after attacks, there are endless lists of great work being done, progression and ability to get people back on their feet again, and this is what we must focus on, this is what is important now. The people of Syria need so much more assistance like this, and this is what it is all about.

As a human being in this world I reach out to you to please donate and assist the people of Syria for humanity.

Anyone who knows me will know I have no care for politics of religion, these boundaries are not anything I am a fan off in any way, I am a fan of humanity only, and my beliefs in life are simple; spread Peace & Love in our world.

www.youcaring.com/marathonforsyrians

Every penny counts. If you can donate $5, or $500 it all matters, it all makes a big difference to help those in need. Please donate, please share at least, please do what you can!

My efforts to assist are little, I know this, but this is a little way in which I am trying to help. I have no training at all to be running a marathon, my fitness is, well, non-existent to be honest, and I have a bad knee that likes to play up every now and then, yet I will endure through this marathon, even if it takes me 2 days to complete, I will do it because I have the strength in my soul from all the Syrians I have met and had the blessings of their love.

Please reach out, please help. Every penny counts and we can all make a difference to help humanity.

If I end up crying like a baby by the time I reach 5km begging for it to all end, contrary to my big claims of I will do it no matter what then I do apologize in advance, and ask for forgiveness in advance! (joking…!)

Please also join the event page I set up on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/256242801225245/

Thank you to those who have been so kind to donate to the marathon fundraiser, and to the organisation I have been so blessed to be a part of with some of the most incredible souls working tirelessly to assist the people of Syria. It really has been so touching to me the support I have had setting all of this up, and to those who have reached out and donated, and shared this widely, thank you from all of my heart, you are amazing!

Together we can really make a difference in this world, and really change the lives for the better of those Syrians who need the support now.

With Peace & Love,

Yasmin x

http://www.youcaring.com/marathonforsyrians
http://www.truthpeacelove.org

Homeless in Kilis; an influx from Syria.

15 Feb

Kilis, Turkey has recently received a vast influx of Syrians seeking safety after recent bombardments of Aleppo.

A mother cries with her children as they stand with their few belongings wondering where they can go.

A mother cries with her children as they stand with their few belongings wondering where they can go.

On any given evening you can find a lady crying on the cold streets of Kilis with her children with a heartbreaking story of survival and loss to tell you.

Kilis refugee camp is full, and there is no other place for Syrians to go. They are finding themselves on the streets with nowhere to go, many finding themselves with no place to pay their heads but on the streets of Kilis.

Syrians are huddled into empty shops, abandoned garages, and anywhere else they can go. Each evening you can find an abundance of Syrians sleeping in the bus station, while day-by-day they are constantly passing through trying to find a place to go.

1000’s of Syrians have entered Kilis in the past week, and the constant stream of people needing assistance certainly has no end in sight.

Around 50 Syrians huddle into this small space together to sleep

Around 50 Syrians crowd into this small space together to call this abandoned shop home for now.

Huddled together for warmth in an empty shop with over 50 people sleeping tightly packed together a young man shares with us his struggles, he has children to feed, along with his wife, and parents to care for. Even thought he is well educated he is unable to find a place to rent at a cheap price and more importantly work; the common tale for Syrians in neighbouring countries.

A woman assists her husband who is an amputee due to complications with diabetes to use the toilet; where is the toilet? It is a small bucket in the open public amongst Syrians outside of the local bus station; they no longer have the opportunity to even keep their dignity. Her husband has no insulin left and they are left with the streets to sleep trying to find a way to go to Istanbul where they hope for a better life.

KILISYASMINALTELLAWY

Young girls cry as they share their pains from their suffering and loss in Syria.

Aa a young girl cries, she tells me just one simple sentence as she struggles to get her words out from her tears, “I just want us to be one again in Syria”, she continues to share how she misses her father and older sister who has been missing for 2 months now & they have no idea where she is. 

Such simple words she shares with such an impact, a girl of just 14 years old, years ahead in maturity, like many children from Syria now, and a simple message of hope for us to be one in our world. Her tears are an overwhelming abundance of pain. There are few children from Syria who are not holding pain in the hearts nowadays.

Syrians entering Turkey from Bab Al Salam border crossing as the sounds of gunfire echo in the air.

Syrians entering Turkey from Bab Al Salam border crossing as the sounds of gunfire echo in the air.

Standing at Bab Al Salam border, or in Kilis refugee camp you can often hear the fighting a short distance away, a sound that no longer makes children shudder in fear, a sound they are much accustomed to at this stage. The only question I seem to get is where is the help for them they hear about so often in the media? Where is all of the money? Where is the UN? A long list of the same questions I have had thrown my way for the past 2 years now.
I sadly have no answers for them as I am unable to find a UN presence offering hands on assistance past wanting to gather the stories of tragedy for their records, there is a great lack of support for the Syrians who have recently fled Syria, I can only find local collections of people trying to help, and my own organisation now trying to offer what assistance we can.

Thousands have entered Turkey through Bab Al Salam in the past week, with thousands more having had to take dangerous, illegal crossings as they do not hold passports & they recently stopped allowing Syrians to enter without passports.

I found an elderly lady crying in the streets of Kilis with her hand badly cut open and clothing torn after a dangerous and scary journey for her, she injured herself on the barbed wire leaving Syria. She cried saying she had done nothing wrong, her home was destroyed and she had nowhere to go, what can she do.

There is no sight to an end to the war in Syria, a minimum of around 6000 people are leaving Syria daily, many with nowhere to go and millions displaced.

I cannot quite describe what it feels like to see people starving, cold, scared and with no security in any way. It leaves me sleepless, it leaves me with guilt, it leaves me to only wonder what on earth is happening in our world and why are we 3 years into a war in Syria, nearly half of the country having fled for assistance elsewhere, and countless dead. How on earth is this possible.

I don’t meet any Syrian in Kilis who has just crossed without a terrible sadness to share with me, they just lost their child, their wife, their husband, all so fresh and without time to even heal from their pains as they have to instantly struggle for survival on the streets of Kilis.

Homeless in Kilis.

Homeless in Kilis. A young Syrian girl finds herself on the streets of Kilis having recently left Syria.

From the young children to the elderly, every soul of Syria has their story and every story matters in our world. Every soul matters in our world.

These people coming to Kilis right now, and across every border are the people who matter, the civilians, those who are important and forgotten often in war. Please think of the people.
Nobody should be homeless in our world; a world of such vast resources, grandeur and wealth that doesn’t seem to hold equality.

I will share more from Kilis shortly, things are just very busy right now and I wanted to share something in this moment. All I can ask is for one simple thing…

Remember humanity in our world. Please.

WWW.TRUTHPEACELOVE.ORG

Homeless, Scared & Alone as a Young Syrian tries to live in Istanbul

9 Aug

The war in Syria continues to rage on with no sign of an end in the near future. Young Syrians are feeling the pressure to work and provide for their families. If you have not turned to working within the war in Syria in some way, then you are left out in the cold when it comes to finances.

My phone rings; a shaky distressed voice I couldn’t recognise was of what sounded like a very scared young boy. It turned out to be a boy I did know. His family had taken me in to stay a few times while working in the north of Syria. In particularly, they took care of me at a time that could have brought great danger to their family while helping me through a troublesome situation.
His words of confusion and sheer distress were apparent that he was in a bad situation and didn’t know what to do. He had managed to get to an internet café, asked to use the internet to find my details which led him to asking to use anyone’s phone to make contact to me.

He had left to Istanbul a month prior to contacting me. His father gave him what money he could to help him get to Istanbul. Many Syrians see Istanbul as a gateway for work and a means to provide for their family. The reality of earning a living in Turkey turns out to be a mere fantasy for most.

I asked him why did he go, knowing he was unfamiliar with the world outside of Syria, a gentle young boy, and had dived in the deep end as many have and continue to do, he said “I need to feed my family, tell me what can I do?”

Having never left Syria alone before, his journey began. After a long bus ride from Hatay, he was in Istanbul and had found work in a factory. Along with many other Syrians, work days being at least 14 hours, he laboured alongside those who also sought a better future for themselves and their loved ones. 22 days later, he was thrown out of the factory where he stayed & worked, along with 20 other Syrians, some who had worked for 2 months and more to find themselves on the streets. They were told they were no longer needed for work; when asked for their money they had worked hard for, they were laughed at as the door slammed on their face.

Factory in Istanbul

The factory entrance where Syrians have been used for work, including Muhammad

21 young men were now sleeping on the street in an area of Istanbul that nobody would desire to be, surrounded by drug dealers, heroin addicts and the typical characters one would expect in such a neighbourhood.
Nobody offered them help, this young man was deeply disturbed by this he shared with me as he only knew his culture and ways of living; They would go out and feed the homeless on the streets, they would take people in to sleep under their roof in their family home anytime another was in need with no questions asked, he grew up in a family where they would leave themselves poor just to feed another in greater need. He couldn’t understand why not one person over the days on the street would stop to help them.

Muhammad found himself on the streets hungry without a penny to his name, feeling ashamed for being in a position where he was unable to feed himself, let alone help his family in need. Some men around him resorted to stealing food in hunger, but this young man refused to turn to such activities. He sold a small bag with some clothing, his only belongings he had just for a little money for food, which he shared with the other men.

PhotoYasminAlTellawy

This is where Muhammad called home while he slept on the streets

With a little help from great friends I have been blessed to encounter through my life, he was taken in right away to a safe place where he was cared for until I could finish up some work and get to Istanbul.

He was always a very skinny young man as I recalled when I last saw him in Aleppo, but this time when I saw him, he was a bag of bones & as white as a ghost. A smile was something he had long-lost the mean of, even in seeing me again he couldn’t break a smile, only tears with exhaustion, fear and relief of seeing someone he felt he could trust were all he could express.

He had taken to me as a big sister when I stayed with his family.  His mother had many sons, and always wished for a daughter she would tell me, I came along and she saw me as a daughter, she didn’t know why, nor I, but we felt a strong connection to one another. She cared for me in every way she could think of, forcing me to wash as I would try to refuse to not use their limited water, even though I was absolutely filthy from weeks without a proper wash.

Muhammad’s mother is one of the kindest, loving souls I could ever have met in my life. I loved just watching her with her gentle smiles, soft-spoken loving words & tender-hearted touch. I felt in many ways I owed this family my life as they done more than the usual family had done for me inside Syria.

To date, the family are long over a year without electricity in their village. We would laugh together at night as we would fill the lamp with diesel for light, with chats in hope the next day we might have water. One of the young boys would come back after a long time trying to get bread only to return empty-handed. We would giggle in the morning as I awoke battered & bruised as one of the young boys had taken to kicking through his wrestles sleep; and I had refused to listen to his mother’s warning to say no when he asked if he could sleep next to me; I then understood why.
We would watch helicopters drop bombs all around always on edge that it would be us next, while the young boys would pull out their school books telling me how they missed school wishing for me to teach them English. Still, there would be laughter and love, this lady had such a pure heart and I will never forget her tears as she hugged me so tightly worrying for me as I had to say goodbye.

Muhammad felt safe now with me. We spent hours talking; he shared every detail of his horror story. He had 2 choices, to stay and try to work in Istanbul again or go home to Syria.
I took him to the good area of Istanbul, the one we all know with beauty and wonder all around. Sights he had never seen, only dreamed to see in life, I told him to take a few days and relax, I gave him a holiday and told him he was safe.

I took him out to eat and I couldn’t work out why he wouldn’t eat, surely he must have been hungry, sleeping on the streets for days, but he wouldn’t really eat. I was not only a sister figure to him but also a mother figure for the young man, so I had to play mother goose and force him to eat. He finally told me why he wouldn’t eat; he felt embarrassed because he didn’t know how to use a knife and fork. Something I took as a given. While this is far from all of Syria as most do know how to use cutlery, he had always been in a small village and eaten in tradition ways with bread being the fork as such. He felt shy to tell me as he didn’t want to feel stupid; it was the cutest thing to me though. I shared with him for me the first time travelling to villages in the middle of nowhere in the Middle East and when I had to first sit down and use bread as my way to catch food and how I made a fool of myself trying to eat like the others, he giggled and didn’t feel so bad then. It was pizza and chips on the menu for the duration of his time with me while he tried to learn through me how to use cutlery. Even pizza was a first for him to try.

Muhammad is an extremely intelligent young boy, his English is incredibly good, but he had just never had a chance to be outside of his village. Very well educated as were his brothers, I always wondered what great things men like him could do if they had to opportunities we in the West take for granted so often.

I took him to beautiful sights that were wondrous to him as I watched magic in his eyes to see everything. I took him for long walks with beautiful surroundings and let him share all he needed. As we walked by the Bosporus, I asked him if he enjoyed swimming… he said he had never even seen the sea before. Next thing he knew he was sitting on a boat for the first time. It gave him such peace, such a sense of calm able to share to me all his problems & thoughts.

Boat trip - Istanbul

Muhammad seeing the ocean and having a boat trip for the first time

He met friends of mine, good people; including a very kind lady we had dinner with who gave him some money to help him and his family. He would ask me in confusion and tears why she would do that as I explained some people are just kind in life truly and to not judge from his back experience.

He was deeply shy from me having come to help him and spending on him. Some members of his own family had made him feel ashamed of failing as they saw it.

He wished to study in life to have a good future to take care of his family, to someday have his own, but he knew Istanbul was not going to be as financially fruitful as some members in his family believed. He would go back to Syria for Eid and think of what options he may have for a better future.

For the first time he was boarding a plane with me. A sad moment for him as he feared what would be waiting for him as he went home. He glared out of the window as the sun lit up the sky welcoming in the morning over the clouds. He told me how beautiful it was, how beautiful everything was he got to see with me and how thankful he was. I knew he was suffering from severe stress, so I made him take an extra day to rest and try to sleep before he had to go back home as we arrived in Antakya.

His father had always been a difficult character in his life. When his father would come into a room while I was staying all laughter would end, only silence dared to fill the air. He was a kind man to me, but I could always see the fear in the family’s eyes when he was around. Muhammad’s mother would joke with me about running away to France with me.

Members in his family told him they would not be able to collect him at the border. A very young man, in a war zone, needing to venture through what was a highly dangerous of raging battles, and he was to be left alone by his family. Devastated I assured him it would all be ok.
His brother who he is closest to was without phone to be able to contact him who would have of course helped him.

Muhammad got back to his family home safely, however is feeling severe pressure to provide for his family as he sees the situation for his loved ones deteriorated greatly to what he had last saw. He struggles in confusion on how he can provide for his mother and young brothers.

Tears as we said goodbye, with a giggle beneath his tears as he said ‘Peace and Love’ waving me farewell; something he had heard me saying too often and learned fast this was my only motto for life.
He gave me the greatest gift of all, the blessing of being able to help another soul in need, the gift of being able to share peace & love. This gift is the most valuable of all in our world.

He left with a long list of first times to reminisce over from his time with me & a photo album of his journey. He saw for the first time the beauty of waves crashing under the suns glimmer, first time to try strawberry ice-cream, pizza, and various foreign foods. He has his first flight with me, first time to stay at a hotel. He also had many firsts of negativity including sleeping in a factory, slave labour, sleeping on the streets, & learning what a heroin addict looked like and how they use the drug, along with street prostitution as he asked me in confusion about things he saw from his innocence.

Most importantly, he left his time with me having had too many laughs by the end, smiles, and visions of beauty through sharing love in our world, he had hopes and dreams he had buried for 2 years were coming alive again. His faith in humanity and his fight through this life enabled within again.

The other young men who were used for work, mostly returned back to Syria, a few continue to work elsewhere in Istanbul for minimal money.

A 26-year-old was now a father for 2 young children after his brother was killed in Syria. It was now his responsibility to provide for these 2 children his brother sadly left behind. All the young men shared an equally tragic story of how they ended to being on the streets of Istanbul. Each of them, as with many young men wanted a future, a life; they were wise in many ways. They all shared the same issues however of pressure in Syria to fight when they did not want to. All of them being teased for being cowards as others would call them for not fighting.

A bleak future of struggle and severe hardship is the only one ahead for most Syrians nowadays. The men of Syria possibly facing the greatest difficulties if they choose a life not destined for fighting. The man in the Middle East must be just that, a ‘man’, he is deemed as weak for shedding a tear, he must care for many others in his family, and he holds such great responsibilities at a young age.

Syrians across the world are feeling suffering at this point. Few families left untouched from tragedy that war brings. Syrians across the world exhausted financially from assisting their loved ones and fellow Syrians. Young men feeling great pressures as the war intensifies, many have a sense of suicidal wishes choosing to just fight from pressure as death seems the only option now for them as opportunities for a future are becoming fewer by the day.

The men of Syria have little focus on their troubles. Many focus only on women and children suffering; the men are struggling greatly also. The men are suffering severe torture with sexual violence as a form of humiliation. The men are suffering pressures from every direction. The men are left alone without a support network that women are able to reach out for. Not every man in Syria is fighting; many are fleeing their days of being a fighter due to the changing situation in Syria with outside groups taking over areas in Syria.

Countless Syrians are finding themselves abused for work in Istanbul and elsewhere. With little support available for the men of Syria, it seems their life is only destined for one of hardship and severe struggle as they try to support their loved ones.

Sadly this story is not a one-off. I have had many Syrians contact me regarding abuse like this. I met with many Syrians in different areas of Istanbul, who all had tragic tales of struggle as they attempted to assist their loved ones.

(‘Muhammad’ has been used in place of the real name)