Sunday, April 14, 2013

My life has changed dramatically since the days when I worked as an IofC volunteer in Toronto. I am now in Damascus, Syria, my native country surrounded by division, violence, hatred, retaliation and war. Witnessing fighting under different names and in different ways but the victims are always people and the country.

How can I apply the knowledge I'd gained in Canada and in my earlier, more peaceful life? How to call for peace while everyone is screaming, cursing and killing? I have no doubt in my mind where I stand. I am on the side of peace, dialogue, bridge building, wisdom, and listening to each one’s needs, then meeting these needs.

All of them, no matter which side they are on, are our sons and brothers. Even when I get angry at one side for the loss and destruction they have caused I pray for wisdom because seeing blood is painful, losing people is devastating. It is not whose blood is being spilled that makes me sympathise. We are all losing, losing our people, our country and values.

But let me backtrack a little.

September 11, 2011 changed my life. It created in me the determination to build bridges between the East and West. It made me see the gap between the two worlds and also the problems of the East. It made me wake up from the idea of seeing my people as victims to realize where our responsibilities were.

Becoming an Arabic tutor to foreigners was the first step to share not only the language but also our fears, anger, and hopes. Also to see our image in the other side's eyes. I always felt that we were responsible for being in our situation but it was also true that the world was not listening to us. Nevertheless, violence was not the way to make ourselves heard.

Then I moved to Canada and realized that Canada was the best place not only to live in but also to build bridges. Canada has already created the conditions for peace by establishing laws to protect every individual's rights regardless of religion, culture or background.

For me, it was home, a little world and source of knowledge. In Canada I learned new skills and gained new understanding. With the help and guidance of friends and IofC members I was able to share my passion through programs such as the film The Imam and the Pastor. I was also involved in other activities such as helping some Muslim families dealing with intergenerational conflict in a new culture.

I left Canada and returned to my native land Syria a few years later.

Since arriving in Damascus I have been sharing IofC with my people. Sharing IofC teachings is a call to look deeply into our own values and see the goodness in everyone. Right now there is a crying need for this, here in Syria. We are sinking and collapsing. Nothing is worse than seeing my country collapsing, my people killing each other.

It is heartbreaking. But in the middle of all this pain, I have never been alone. Being encouraged by IofC friends from all over the world including Canada has been uplifting.

Sometimes I feel like an exhausted woman who can't stand up, can’t walk because I reflect my country's situation. Being supported and supporting my people around me have been like a stick I am leaning on.

Also meeting the Lebanon IofC team, who went through the same situation has helped me and supported me. Since participating in the Creators of Peace program in Lebanon, great and profound relationships have been built. The discussions we had helped us realize that we both had a lot in common. We both need peace. The program has helped us realize that we don't reflect the politics that divide us .We can unite our efforts to educate our people that “There is no way to peace but through peace." That has been very strengthening too.

In Damascus I have led two peace circle programs. Even though some women had different opinions these meetings allowed them all to be humans together, to leave their prejudice aside and talk about what is right. It was a break from talking about what was going on ...It was a break from wishing harm to the ones they didn't like. Also it was a chance for them to go deep down and be themselves.

I have been trying to start the third one but the situation is getting worse. I am ready to meet them but can't risk their safety. The streets are dangerous. Kidnapping, killing and destruction...Yet, doing this work is my other chance for sharing with my students who are amazingly open and thirsty for this kind of conversations.

Besides that, there is a youth group that I meet with once a month. We are nine people from different denominations. We never ask each other what our denomination is, because our goal is to love Syria and Syria is loved when its people love one another.

There are ways to build peace as there are ways to destroy it. It depends on our choice and our conviction. I believe that at this sensitive time we need to listen to one another with respect, understanding each other’s pain and we need to honest about our opinions, motivations and realities. My strength comes from God, friends, prayers and support and stories about people who have gone through the same situation and were able to overcome it. 

Iman Al Ghafari reporting from Damascus, Syria