A sign sat at the front of the Charles Carroll room in Stamp that read “help us help them.”
This statement rang true Tuesday night at “The Syrian Crisis: An Inside Look,” where two Syrian men, one an immigrant and one a refugee, shared stories from their war torn home and what it is like being forced out of your own country by your own government.
The new on-campus organization No Lost Generation UMD presented the event. Three sophomores created this university’s chapter of the club as part of a capstone project for their scholars program: community health majors Jessica Throwe and Talia Hoch, and environmental science and policy major Nan Himmelsbach.
No Lost Generation UMD partnered with Chicago-based nonprofit the Syrian Orphans Organization for this event to raise money to sponsor children inside Syria and neighboring areas of Turkey. The funds provide them with food, shelter clothing, education and any necessary medical costs.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated 10.8 million people, including 6 million children, in Syria were affected by the conflict and in need of humanitarian assistance. In addition, 6.5 million people were internally displaced, while 4.8 million fled the country in 2014.
Mostafa Hassoun, a 23-year-old Syrian refugee living in Annapolis, Maryland, described his process and experience as a Syrian refugee and what life was like living under Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
“In 2011, [al-Assad] sent the army … to all the towns and cities in Syria to finish the revolution, to kill people, so I left my town.”
He moved to Turkey where he lived in a camp in a small tent with 10 other people. Hassoun said his family is now displaced in several different countries, and he won’t be able to travel outside of the United States to be reunited with them for five more years, when he is able to get a passport.
“I miss my home, I miss my mom, I miss my sisters, my friends. I lost a lot of friends in the war,” he said.
Hassoun described the challenge of adjusting to life in the U.S. simply because of his refugee status. “When I got here, it [was] really hard for me to be Syrian refugee,” he said. “Not Syrian, [a] Syrian refugee.”
Hassoun now has a job, friends and is an activist within his community. He shares his story and informs people about the Syrian conflict, something he said many don’t fully understand or even know about.
“When I came here, I [had a] dream to start my life again; I’m feeling strong to get back [to my life] again.” He said he hopes to pursue an architecture degree from the University of Maryland in the future.
The second speaker, Dr. Mohammed Hisham Naji, moved to the United States in 1973 from Damascus, Syria. He is a practicing anesthesiologist in Virginia.
Dr. Naji is also president of the Washington, D.C. chapter of SAMS, the Syrian American Medical Society.
After giving a brief history of Syria — and how it came to be in the state it is in today after a peaceful revolution sparked the conflict — Dr. Naji spoke about the humanitarian work SAMS is doing to ensure civilians in his country still receive medical care.
In the early stages of the revolution, Dr. Naji said any peaceful protester in the street was shot on the spot. If they survived and went to the hospital, he said “the secret police would be waiting for them there to finish them off.”
He said people began running small clinics in their homes to combat this and would call doctors to help with patients. This worked until doctors were targeted, he said, and started fleeing the country in large numbers. In response, SAMS began sending medical supplies to Syria and established free, underground medical facilities. The organization pays for the doctors and nurses and provides all the equipment needed.
When the regime started finding out where these clinics were, they immediately targeted them with bombs, Dr. Naji said. SAMS could not be deterred, though, and went as far as building clinics three-stories underground and in caves. They also have mobile clinics: cars going from town to town treating people.
The Assad-regime targeted more than 30 of SAMS’ facilities, killing more than 800 personnel, bombed more than two-thirds of all medical facilities in Syria and did not allow medical supplies to any areas occupied by the regime, according to Dr. Naji.
Despite this, in 2015, SAMS treated 2.6 million patients for free, vaccinated 1.4 million children for polio, performed over 35,000 medical procedures, treated more than 25,000 patients for psychological trauma and donated $25 million in medical supplies. They also have about 11,000 medical personnel in Syria.
Continuing to treat patients and refusing to be afraid of al-Assad is SAMS’ form of revolution in a country where Dr. Naji said “a peaceful day is when only 20 people die.”
The Syrian refugee crisis continues to be a hot-button topic, and although the story is not dominating the media as much as it was last year, people are still displaced every day and millions are living in camps, unsure of where they will end up next. Syria is the largest displacement crisis globally, according to OCHA.
Dr. Naji said the best way to change these circumstances is to donate to charities like the Syrian Orphans Organizations, spread the word about what is happening in Syria and voice opinions by calling the U.S. government, including the president and Senate.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Flickr user Mustafa Khayat.
Kira Sansone is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at email@example.com.