Those of you who are regular followers of all things MMW will know that we’ve got strong ties to North Africa and the Middle East. Our very own Allie was born in Morocco and her mother was from Syria; some of our team spend at least half of our time in Egypt.
We have followed closely events in Syria over the last 7 years as, at first, anti-government protests followed a wave of similar protests sweeping throughout the Arab world leading to out and out civil war. We watched in dismay as the war intensified and far from seeing a resolution, the increasingly precarious and complex political and military backdrop has made us lose all hope that peace will come any day soon. The world is standing by whilst this beautiful country and its equally beautiful people are torn apart.
The current situation in Eastern Ghouta, near the capital Damascus is deplorable and heart-breaking in equal measure. It’s a catastrophe for the 400,000 people who live there; under siege for nearly 5 years, the fighting has escalated in recent weeks, and what’s happening there is being likened to events in Srebrenica. On 20 February 2018 UNICEF took the unprecedented step of issuing a mostly blank press statement following reports of mass casualties among children in the area: “We no longer have the words to describe children’s suffering and our outrage”.
So by now you’re probably wondering why we’re writing about all of this…
In the midst of our mounting horror, despair, hopelessness, helplessness - we too are lost for words these days - we began to look more closely at what we could do to help the people under siege; anything is better than nothing. And we discovered some amazing women with inspirational stories of hope and dedication. Normal people, like us, trying to live normal lives - bringing up children, working, studying. This is a traditionally conservative community with patriarchal values which makes the stories you’re about to read and hear even more remarkable. To mark this year's International Women's Day with its theme of #PressforProgress, we had to share a selection of them with you:
Dr Amani Ballour
Dr Amani Ballour is a paediatrician in Eastern Ghouta and manages a field hospital there that has become one of the most important hospitals in the area. In this film she describes her work and her hopes for her future.
You can also follow her on Twitter @amalalsham87
Despite being arrested and tortured, Faten, or Um Samih as she’s known locally, provides food and support for those in need, distributing food, medicines and home supplies. You can read more about this remarkable woman and find out more about her project, One Hand, its current activities and support its work.
Bereen Hassoun is a mother and nurse in Eastern Ghouta, trying to bring up her son as positively as she can. She describes what it’s like living under the bombardment and what she and her neighbours are doing to try to make life as normal as possible for their children when they get the opportunity.
Siham is the director of the Women Now for Development in Eastern Ghouta. Here she describes her work, the challenges she faces, her inspiration and her determination that change will come.
Nivin Hotary lives with her daughter in what she describes as house arrest; she is living with many others in a cellar in an attempt to stay safe from the bombs while feeling imprisoned and isolated. When recounting the difficulties they face from day to day, she also makes a point of saying that they still create laughter as often as they can - “we laugh to live”
This is just a small sample of the inspiring women out there playing their part to make life more bearable and to support their community. They haven't given up all hope and nor should we. There are links below to resources where you can find out a lot more about the people making a difference: ordinary people doing some extraordinary things which often put their own safety at risk. Please take time to review them. We owe it every single besieged person to share their stories; we won’t forget them.
Find out more:
https://ghouta.com Ghouta.com is an information website about East Ghouta. The website provides insights into the daily life in besieged East Ghouta written by activists living in Ghouta. The website also collects articles, reports and statistics published by other websites.
http://www.liberated-t.com/?lang=en Liberated T”, is a Syrian advocacy campaign that aims to change the negative gender stereotypes imposed mainly by Syrian society on women.
https://women-now.org Women For Development is a Syrian NGO which initiates programmes led by Syrian women that protect Syrian women and children across socio-economic backgrounds, and empowers women to find their political voice and participate in building a new, peaceful Syria that respects and safeguards equal rights for all its citizens.