Recently, I have looked back and pondered much about the day that it all began. Where the course of life thrust me onto a journey into a world of darkness, pain and loss, a world that has spun out of control, a world that longs for the light to push that darkness back. Reflecting on the year 2000, life was oh so different in the Kingdom by the Sea. The city of the King was desolate, void of life, none of the hustle and bustle that it now enjoys. We lived suspicious, observing everything, everyone, missing nothing, seeing more bombs hiding under winter coats, than bags with loaves of bread. As families we lived super tight, close to each other, in the knowledge that with all the bombs being exploded in the city, each day could be our last. Each bus ride could be our last. Most weeks we attended at least one funeral. Some days, we buried twenty lifeless bodies between sunrise and sunset. And then we would attempt to be wives, husbands, fathers and mothers and act normal. It was in one of those days that the news reached me that my eldest son was seriously injured in a brutal, twenty on one, act of terrorism which was a well planned with cameras rolling, an act of attempted murder. Life changed for him, for us a family as for every victim of terrorism, in a split second of time. This act of brutality has moulded us into whom we are today. And actually, with the wisdom of retrospect and the passing of time, we are grateful. A few years into the long recovery period, operations, neuro- psychologists, trauma counsellors, I received a phone call, someone whom I did not know asking to meet saying that he held new information regarding the event. The famous carrot was dangled in front of the donkey. Bait duly swallowed, we met. He told me how a young man had contacted him from within the area of the terrorists, barely a week after the death of his father. He wanted to unburden himself and break the silence his father had maintained in life. His father a restaurant owner, on the square where the attack took place, had seen that which was happening, opened the door of his restaurant, and screamed to my son to enter. Once through the restaurant door, he locked it and with deliberation and with an unprecedented value for life, opened a back door of escape. That phrase, the “back door of escape” stuck with me. My son barely had a non-broken or fractured bone in his body at that point, his skull was open and bleeding and here a “back door of escape” was opened to him by a total stranger, one not his own. An act of kindness and mercy which saved his life, and thereby saved our sanity. It was in that moment, that I knew from somewhere deep inside me, that if I were to be given the chance of opening such a door for a Muslim, one not my own, I would do just that. A slow fast forward some twenty years. No longer in the Kingdom by the Sea but in the Land Between Two Rivers, in Mesopotamia, overlooking the Plains of Nineveh, just a few minutes from our Prophet Nahum’s village, a newly arrived Syrian refugee lady asks to meet with me.
A lady who was smuggled over the border along with her two children. A lady who survived the bombing of her village in the Rojava region of Syria, who survived an air strike that took her house out, who dusted herself down as a car was exploded in what remained of her street. A lady who then realised that she had become displaced and had to flee to Kurdistan in order to stay alive. We met. She did not ask for help for herself or her children although they had nothing but one bag of clothes that she managed to carry out. She asked whether we could help her people. A request too large for comprehension, simply too big for the mind to take in. We had felt the same when viewing Shariya camp for the first time...a kind of struggling for air moment. My response was “come up with an airtight plan, and then come back and we will process.” She did and we did and thus from the rubble of Rojava, Springs of Hope Foundation Rojava was born. The back door of escape.
In some ways, it’s a long journey from the days of restaurants, and buses being exploded, from the examination of body parts and the identification of corpses, of funerals and endless mourning. A journey, which has taken us in recent years, as an organisation and me in particular, to the Yezidi tents in the refugee camps of Northern Iraq, home to yet another manifestation of blackness, death and loss. Such a long journey but yet such a straight line now crossing yet another border into Syria. When I ponder this journey, my thoughts go to the journey of Abraham and the words of the prophet Isaiah. “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria ...in that day Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the land, whom the L-rd of Hosts shall bless, saying “Blessed is Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel, my inheritance.” This region that is currently the target of mass destruction.
The team, yes suddenly we had a team of six volunteers, based between Qamishli and Al Hasakah, began to work on the ground, simple but vital work, connecting with those in flight and providing basic winter needs, blankets, mattresses and pillows, canned food, and baby formula and diapers to those with nothing. As I watched the team work with dedication and love, walking through the rubble of empty villages, finding the small numbers crowding into abandoned houses and empty schools in their flight to safety... the words came back that were spoken to me so long ago, “a back door of escape.” It’s time to pay back the debt, of mercy and compassion to a stranger, given at personal risk.
We are now in the process of formal governmental registration as a local NGO with the hope that we will be able to hold down a small base within one of the displacement camps currently under construction. We start cautious, we start small but we have learned not to under estimate the day of new beginnings, rather to lean in and embrace enlargement. We would value your gifts to this area of the Highway. Our desire is to help stop the bleeding.