Stories of Hope - Laila and Raneem
Stories of Hope - Laila and Raneem
Thousands of miles apart, but connected through a letter
Raneem, 17, knows pain. She watched as one of her brothers was executed in their own home in war-ravaged Syria. And shortly after, in 2013, her parents and her other two brothers fled to Jordan, leaving behind everything they had ever known.
“There became so much killing and blood,” Raneem says, “the destruction started getting inside of us, becoming a part of us.”
Raneem thinks often about the children still inside Syria, and the destruction deepening inside of them. She has vowed to help them. She wants to be a pharmacist. “Syrian children need someone to feel their pain,” she said. “I want to help them as much as I can by providing as much medication as possible.”
Today Raneem sits quietly inside her family’s modest apartment in Irbid, Jordan, near the Syrian border. She holds a letter that has arrived from Palo Alto, California. It’s from someone else who wants to help Syrians with their pain.
“Hi Raneem, my name is Laila,” the letter begins. “I’m 24 years old. I currently work as a researcher at Stanford University, working to better understand the mental health of Syrian refugee children who have been exposed to the war.”
Laila Soudi was inspired by CARE’s Letters of Hope initiative, whereby WWII refugees, now in their 70s and 80s and living in America, wrote letters of support to Syrian children on the 5th anniversary of the Syrian war. She was struck by how the WWII refugees, who had all received CARE Packages from families they didn’t know in America, wanted to pay it forward, shining some light into the lives of Syrian families experiencing their darkest moments. So this spring, as the war drags past the six-year mark, Laila has brought the Letters of Hope campaign to Stanford’s campus, kicking it off with the letter that Raneem now grips in her shaking hands, 7,000 miles away.
Laila is a Jordanian immigrant. She migrated with her family to the U.S. when she was a teenager. So Laila knows what it is like to leave everything familiar behind to start over in a new country. Her family eventually moved back to Jordan, while Laila stayed in the U.S. to continue her university education. Now, her family lives not far from Raneem.
Laila’s goal is to inspire students — at Stanford and around the world — to write their own letters of hope, express their own measure of solidarity, to Syrian refugees like Raneem, many of whom feel abandoned by the world, unsure of what their future holds. “I feel like I’m talking to someone who could very well be my sister,” Laila said after reading a short story about Raneem that informed her letter. “I identify with her as someone who is also working in the health field…we both recognize that there’s a lack of health services being delivered in our communities.”
Tears well up in Raneem’s eyes as she reads further and learns how much she has in common with this stranger from America. “My father was from Syria and my mother is Palestinian,” Laila’s letter reads. “She herself was a refugee who had to flee her home and move with her family to Jordan.”
Raneem says she and Laila obviously share a drive to continue their studies in the name of helping children caught in the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II. The pursuit of an education was another reason Raneem said her family fled Syria. “All the schools and homes were destroyed,” she says.
“Continuing my studies in pharmacy is what gives me strength and motivation,” she says. “Laila gave me more energy and bigger hope.”
Raneem wipes the tears from her eyes as she folds the letter closed. One sentence, in particular, makes her tear up: “I believe the world is lucky,” the letter says, “to have such a strong, determined woman…You now have a sister in Jordan.”
Then she reads the letter again, well aware that words, too, can ease pain.
Thousands of miles apart, but connected through a letter.