TCNJ Magazine - Winter 2017

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19 I was born and raised in New Jersey. My dad actually grew up in Brooklyn. My mom grew up in Egypt, but then she married my dad and moved to the United States. I was raised by a single mom for most of my life. She's always been a strong person. Growing up, I thought that's what the female was supposed to be like: an independent, strong-willed, goes-after-what-she-wants type of person. We were always taught, "You have to get an education. You have to stand up for injustice." Those were the core values that my family instilled in me. I went to Islamic school and learned the teachings of my religion and the teachings of the Quran. The Quran teaches justice, peace, equality, and humanity. These beautiful aspects of the religion that I try to implement every day of my life really took a hit when the Syrian refugee crisis started. I think we underestimate how much of our upbringing has an impact on us until there comes a time when you have to practice your beliefs. At TCNJ, I was in the library taking a break from studying. Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I saw this picture of this little Syrian boy holding a dead body that I believe was his baby sister or brother. I'm actually not a very emotional person. But just seeing that picture, I felt physical heartbreak. Seeing this going on in the world today — and here I am in a peaceful environment — I wanted to do something. I remember peeking outside the [clinic] door one day, and I see this four-year-old kid who doesn't want to come into the therapy session. I tried to get to know him. I introduced myself, and he's just not having it. I'm like, "Okay, okay, fine." I was like, "Worry not, I have a month here, we will get to know each other." Later, on my drive back to Amman, I asked my coworker, "What's his story?" She shared with me that he and his brother and his mom were survivors of one of the acid attacks on Ghouta, Syria. His father died in the attack. Their balcony overlooked a government hospital. One day he told his mom, "Mom, you're lying to me. You said that the ambulances save people. They kill people." Later, they realized that the government was actually taking people from protests to government hospitals and killing them there. The young boy would see them get shot on a daily basis. He once saw a tank run over an injured protestor. Nobody had noticed that he was seeing this. " AT THE BEGINNING of the war, it was just the Assad regime and the rebels. Now it's Hezbollah, the Russians, who knows, ISIS even." Flash forward a couple of years, and that boy is at the clinic, where I attended one of his therapy sessions, where we put him in the room with toys. He brought down this car, and there was paint in the room, and he said, "I'm going to paint this car black because that way I'm going to recognize that it's Bashar al-Assad's car so I could kill him." I'm thinking to yourself, "Did I even know who the president was at five years old?" I knew George Washington, but I didn't know any of the things that this five-year-old knew. He kept on mentioning Assad throughout the session, I'd say, 15 times in half an hour. While I was in Jordan, I was out to a dinner with a family friend and her Jordanian friends. They discovered that I'm doing work with refugees, and this one lady had the audacity to say, "These refugees are taking our money, they're taking our jobs. My son can't find a job." I said, "What do you want them to do? Stay in Syria and have it rain bombs on them until they die? Is it because they live across a certain border, they're less worthy of life?" I really felt so helpless and frustrated because, from nine to five, I was dealing with people who have faced horrible, horrible experiences — things beyond our imagination. Then there I was at night, when it was peaceful and beautiful. I could afford to go out and have dinner, while some of the refugees were struggling to put food on their table. I thought to myself that this woman could afford to do all these nice things — and she was complaining about a population the entire world has closed its doors on? Honestly, I don't know how on earth I coped for a month. I really don't know. My journal really helped me. I think, too, that it helps to know that I'm making a difference by spreading the word. I want to emphasize to people that it's not a crime to be ignorant. I think it's a crime to be ignorant and remain in ignorance and not do anything about it. Once you learn about something, I think it's on all of us to take action. Just trying to spread the word and channeling my sadness and frustration into action is really my main coping mechanism. I think I'm more rational than I was before. Now, when I look at something, it's no longer the end of the world. I think we live in a society where everything 's such a drama — literally. Everything 's such a big deal. You get into a disagreement with someone, and it's the end of the world. I think people need to start getting over their differences. I think that's what this has taught me the most — that the world needs us. We are the generation.

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