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Searching for Hope

Illustrated by Lee El Sayed

It was a Monday afternoon. My sister-in-law called to tell me she was going out of town to visit her family the next day. She was extremely excited to finally reunite with her family after so long.

On the next day, while we were waiting to hear that she arrived there safely, the phone rings. It was Tuesday, August 5th, 2018. I answered the phone expecting to hear her voice. Unfortunately, it was my brother on the line who broke the tragic news to us. His wife got arrested at the checkpoint at the far edge of town. The officers ordered her to leave her 9-month-old baby with his three siblings, who wouldn’t stop crying. She left her children there, hoping that she’ll return soon enough.

My brother started desperately calling all his connections to get her out of this ordeal. We waited many days for her to be released and were worried about the children who were left deserted on the side of the street, the eldest not yet seven years old.

After several failed attempts from our side, we received a phone call from a man who said he knew how we can end this nightmare. He told my brother that, as her husband, he had to turn himself in to the officers at the checkpoint. In return, his wife would be released and sent back to her family who were waiting impatiently to see her.

Upon hearing this, everyone fell into a state of shock. The only way for my sister-in-law to be released was for my brother to turn himself in.

We decided to wait for a few days, but it wasn’t long before we lost contact with my brother who disappeared under mysterious circumstances on August 26th, 2018. For twenty days, he waited to hear any news concerning her. We were talking to him often on the phone, but he was very discreet the entire time and never mentioned anything suspicious going on.

The last time we spoke to him was at 6pm on the same day he disappeared. He told me then that he was willing to do anything to save his wife, and that he refused to leave his wife under the mercy of the regime, so he decided to turn himself in. I warned him that what he was about to do will be counterproductive and that the authorities will not let her go. He said that he’s fate is uncertain and that his life would be at stake if his wife remained in prison.

On the following day, I tried calling him but he didn’t answer. This wasn’t unusual, sometimes he’d go days without having internet connection. I tried calling time and again, but there was no answer. I started thinking how I could possibly reach him. I searched my call history for anything that could help lead me to him. I felt a gleam of hope for the first time when I found his friend’s number, which he used once to call me. Alas, his friend didn’t pick up either. After days of getting no news of him, I was overwhelmed by sadness. Back then, I thought it was just a matter of time before he’d call.

From that moment on, our suffering kept snowballing. On August 30th, 2018, I received a call from one of a relative telling me that one of my missing brother’s children passed away. We were once again devastated and heartbroken over what has become of my brother’s family in the span of one month. Three helpless children were still alive. Because of a war we had nothing to do with, this family lost a husband, a brother, a sister-in-law and a child. At this point, there wasn’t a family in Syria who hasn’t experienced the death of a loved one.

In spite of being estranged and becoming refugees in a foreign land, our suffering only made us stronger and helped us to fight back and defend our rights. Despite our dire circumstances, we were able to bring the three children back together and rescue them from their misery. These children were everything that was left of a bereaved family who lost half of its members. What did they do to deserve being stripped of the basic necessities in life and everything that’s dear to them?

We did all we could to get them to Lebanon so they could benefit from the support of orgnizations that help children overcome this difficult time of their life involving arrests and deprivation of their freedoms. After they were brought to us in Lebanon, we tried to show them as much affection and love as possible. But no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t fill the void these children felt.

When I first talked to my 6-year-old niece, she said to me “I don’t like baba, it’s because of him that mama was imprisoned. He’s a bad man, it’s all his fault.” As I listened to her, disturbed by what she was saying, she takes my phone to play with it and sees her father’s photo on the lock screen. “Do you have his number?” she asks instinctively, forgetting completely all the bad thoughts she had about her father a few moments ago.

All that’s happened changed me and had me searching constantly for a solution. I tried everything desperately but failed to even have any news from my brother. One day, as I was sitting through a lecture, I learned about this feminist movement called Families for Freedom. The group was founded by five women who tackled the issue of the detainees and disappeared. Some of the activists shared the same suffering as me. These women heard my story and empathized with it. Shortly after joining the movement, I began to feel better and found new ways to look for the truth.

I learned from them the importance of perseverance and advocacy. I was in a real predicament. Between losing a loved one, escaping death and having to raise three young children, I needed someone to hold my hand. All I cared about was how to tend for these children who’ve experienced many losses. You might not always see their suffering, but it is there etched deep inside them. How can we help them recover when the war is still ravaging, and prison doors are still locked?

None of this could deter me from pursuing my efforts and interacting with the community. After I joined the Families for Freedom movement, I started attending women empowering workshops, such as digital literacy and nursing courses. Last year, I participated in a leadership training for nine months, and at the end of the training, the participants had to present their projects or initiatives to potentially receive funding.

I took it upon myself to submit a proposal targeting the children of detainees. We were a group of fifty women applying for funding, and we started to put together activities. Shortly after, I received the news that my initiative got accepted and was granted the funding. Our goals were to alleviate the children’s pain and develop their abilities to find hope in themselves. Today, we are still hoping for a brighter future that would bring us and our children some love and security, so that we can enjoy a peaceful life after the war that stole from us those dearest to our hearts.