By Herbert Hoover High School Red Cross Club President, Amisha Chowdhury
Last Sunday, I attended the “Salam Neighbor” documentary screening and encouraged a few of my High School Red Cross Club members to partake in this incredible Red Cross experience with me. I walked in with an open mind, to not only explore and learn about Red Cross International Services, but to also support Nancy (one of my very own Glendale Executive Board officers) who shared her story, as a guest speaker, after the film.
The documentary “Salam Neighbor” captured the experience of two American filmmakers living in one of Jordan’s refugee camps, alongside Syrian refugees. It highlighted the stories of our refugee neighbors in an effort to connect us with the life of many who fled their homes to escape the atrocities of war.
The film itself had a tremendous effect on the audience as it made us reflect on the core values of humanity. Watching a ten year old make the decision to go back to school after suffering a traumatic experience makes you take a step back and think about the simple privileges we all take for granted. The documentary itself delivered a very powerful message, but what really took me back was hearing Nancy, our guest speaker, tell her story about how she escaped from Syria and moved to America.
Nancy immigrated to the U.S. few years ago, after the first bomb hit the city of Aleppo, not too far from where Nancy and her family lived. She shared the story of being at her sister’s sweet 16 party when the conflict started. This traumatic experience marked the beginning of her long journey. She shared the story of her grandfather getting kidnapped by the rebel group while he was driving home from work. She also shared the story of watching multiple bombs explode from the roof-top of her own home. She could see them detonating all-around, in nearby cities.
These are only a few of the many stories that she shared with us after we watched the film. Right after she came to America, after a long application process, she received a call from her loved ones back home. They warned Nancy and her family of the political turmoil in Syria. And, to this day, her family hasn’t been able to return to Syria, for fear of losing their lives. Furthermore, Nancy discussed the recent executive order on immigration, which will prevent her from going back to Syria since she might not be able to return to the U.S. again. She also expressed concerns about not being able to see her dad, who currently lives in Egypt. She said the new government order makes her very fearful, that ultimately, it could destroy any hope of reconnecting with her family in Syria ever again.
This year, I have spent countless hours with Nancy, working on the Executive Board. I knew Nancy came from a strong Syrian/Armenian background but, I wasn’t aware of the details to her story or about any of the hardships she had to endure. Listening to her story on Saturday in Pasadena had me in tears. Now, my respect and appreciation for Nancy has grown even stronger.
Nancy’s story is only one voice out of the millions of people that are affected by the outcome of war and political turmoil. In a world where violence has forced more than sixty million people to leave their homes, the global conflict in Syria is clearly one of the world’s most critical humanitarian crisis of our time. Now, more than ever, my wish is for nations to come together and support host countries by seeking understanding rather than accepting stereotypes. Thanks to my friend Nancy, I now have a greater appreciation for the struggles of Syrian refugees and hope for a better solution.