Dead to Red Race: “My Students Will Keep Me Running”


I grew up in the Yarmouk Camp for Palestinian refugees in Damascus and was an English teacher before I had to flee to Jordan.

It’s been almost two years since I last stood in front of my class at Al Emleha school. Sometimes I had to shout out my grammar lessons so that my voice would be heard over the thunder of bombs and the humming of tanks.

The children panicked and so did I. But I knew I was the only one who could make them feel less afraid.

Sometimes I made up stories. I told them that there was a big celebration with fireworks. But the children were smarter than that.

One girl asked me, “Teacher, why are you lying to us? This is not a celebration, this is a bomb. We hear them every day, we know what they are!”

Here in Jordan, when I register refugees in CARE’s urban refugee center in East Amman, it breaks my heart when families tell me that their children are not going to school. Parents simply cannot afford to pay for the school bus, their books or even their pens. They are struggling to survive, to pay for rent, water, food and medication.

A lot of times it is the children who have to contribute to the families’ earnings in order to make ends meet >

A few weeks ago, a father from Homs told me that his 10-year-old son used to be the best student in his class. But then the father, formerly an engineer in Syria, was shot in his back by a sniper and they were forced to flee to Jordan.

Now his little boy has to work in a restaurant from 8:00 in the morning until 8:00 at night because his father can hardly move due to his injuries and the other children are even younger than their brother. He earns five Jordanian dinars ($7.00) a day. I could see this big man’s eyes fill up with tears. He kept saying, “My child should not work, he should learn. He should have a better future than this.”

I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was 9 years old, and I hope that I can be a teacher in Syria again when the war is over.

Some of my students, however, I will never see again. It was on Facebook that I saw that one of my favorite students, Mohamed, was killed. He was on his way to the barber to get his hair cut when a a splinter of grenade shrapnel hit him and went right to his heart. The doctors in Yarmouk Camp could not do much for him; he needed oxygen, but the electricity had been down for days. They wanted to get him to a hospital, but there are no cars, busses or ambulances coming to Yarmouk anymore. His heart stopped beating in October 2012.

In November of that same year, we went back to Syria from Jordan for a few weeks because we thought the situation was better -- and we missed our home.

I love talking and I have always been good at finding the right words at the right time. I wanted to use these words to make Mohamed’s mother feel better, to heal parts of her heart which were broken by a splinter in in that of her son’s.

But when I knocked on her door to console her, for the first time in my life, I felt like someone had torn the tongue out of my mouth. My speech was simply inadequate when looking into the eyes of a mother who has lost her child.

What was I supposed to tell her? What could I possibly say to ease her pain? So I just hugged her for a very long time and we cried together.

Why I am running

I have never been a big runner, but when I run through the desert it will be Mohamed who will keep me going.

I will think of the sadness in his mother’s eyes and with every step I take I hope we will get closer to a world in which no Syrian mother ever has to lose her child again. I will run for the Syrian children, whose right it is to go to school, to live peacefully, to learn, to live carefree and feel happiness and safety again.

And, last but not least, I am also running for myself.

It might sound funny, but there is something stuck in my head I think and worry about every day. I think about the day this crisis ends, the day Syria can start a new, peaceful chapter in its history. Millions of Syrians will leave Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to go back to Syria. What if all the busses and taxis are full? I will not want to wait a single day to see my homeland again. If I can run 242 kilometres through the desert, walking 176 kilometres from Amman to Damascus should be doable, right?

Join us!

While you may not be in Jordan in March, there are other ways you can support the team and CARE’s work: