Just like most of us, I first became aware of the plight of the Syrian people from pictures my TV screen. I watched in desperation and hopelessness as, night after night, images of people huddled together on overcrowded boats, or worse still, their bodies swept up on Greek beaches. Along with all of you I felt a mixture of disbelief, frustration, anger, guilt, powerlessness, and immense sadness. In January this year I heard about an event in Exeter called “From Danger to Safety”, which was provided to raise awareness of the Syrian plight, and challenge some of the myths that were prevalent on the media. As I left the house to attend, I remarked to my husband that I didn’t really want to go as I thought it would be distressing. In my head, I was ready to sit in the room and listen to presentations for an hour, then come back home to my comfy existence and put it out of my head.
Baraa Kouja changed that. Hearing him speak of the situation in Aleppo, the difficulties encountered by members of his family and his friends, and of the suffering and pain of the Syrian people, touched me greatly. No longer would I think of Syrians with pity and sorrow, but feel for them as fellow humans, people just like me, people with families, friendships, people who had loved their life in Syria before the war, and who were now suffering the terrible consequences.
6 months later, I am inspired by all that Baraa has achieved, not on his own of course, but with the support of many many people, who have worked with him, putting on exhibitions in the UK, and on the ground in Syria and Lebanon, using every penny of the donations given to meet the needs of Syrian people in displacement camps and in Syria. On our own we can do little, but together we can change the world. I don’t know who said that originally, but the work of From Syria with Love shows it to be true. As well as the humanitarian relief provided to people in Syria and Lebanon, the work of From Syria with Love has a vital role to play in promoting racial and religious harmony in our country and the world. Both the book, and the exhibition of childrens’ pictures, bridge the gap between being British and being Syrian. Something about the simplicity and honesty of the children’s drawings touches the very essence of what it is to be human, and connects us as fellow citizens in the world. The book will bring the voices of Syrian children to the British, (and potentially worldwide) public, a gift from Syria, with Love. Channelling my anger and sadness into constructive work for From Syria with Love has enriched me. Jo Cox reminded us that we have more in common than what divides us, and I dedicate my work as Chair to her memory.