Thank you so much to everyone who donated money & time to She Is Syria! With everyone’s contributions, we continued following our characters and meeting new ones. Here are some recaps of what we’ve been up to this past year.
In February, French documentary filmmaker Eddie Claudon joined the team to help me shoot and produce. We followed Sarah Mardini — former swimmer and 21-year-old refugee rights activist — doing her volunteer work in Lesvos, Greece. Not only is she continuing her public speaking work to raise awareness about refugees, she is also working with an organization that watches the shoreline and rescues migrant boats.
From Lesvos, we headed to Athens. There, we found Hevin Mamo and her three kids no longer living in a camp but in a flat! Hevin worried about being stuck in Greece but fortunately, the family was recently accepted by Sweden. As for the kids, it was really amazing how full of hope they were. They talked to us nonstop about their dreams for the future.
In April, we traveled to Armenia to understand life for Christian Syrian women. We met Mary Rose, former homemaker and talented seamstress. Born and raised in Aleppo, she explained that before war, there was no issue being Christian in a predominantly Muslim society. “We never felt any sort of difference. Life wasn’t expensive and people of all classes lived very well. ” Of her new home, Mary Rose says, “It’s not easy to start from zero, especially after all that happened.”
A brief history: Many Armenians fled to Syria as refugees in 1915 because of the Armenian Genocide. Since then, Aleppo has been home to a significant Armenian minority population. One hundred years later, the descendants of these Armenian refugees have been forced to become refugees themselves.
What I learned during this process is that the answer to what it means to be Syrian is as complex as what it means to be American. I’m exploring how the mix of Muslim Arab, Kurdish, and Christian Armenian communities all contributed to a rich civil society before war. What did it mean to be a Syrian woman navigating through a patriarchal society? And now, what does it mean to be a Syrian woman navigating through new lands? The women I’ve met identify as fighters, warriors. “Refugee” is an identity imposed on them. They’re storytellers looking to preserve themselves even though the retelling can be painful.
I’m spending time combing through interviews and footage. It’s a road filled with discovery actually.
I’m now in Paris, France to interview Lina Chawaf, a journalist from Damascus. She’s doing amazing work with Radio Rozana, which is an independent Syrian radio station based here. They have about 50 undercover correspondents operating inside Syria and they broadcast non-propaganda news to Syrians. Here’s Lina talking about her role as a journalist in exile: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOTmyB2e79I