March 15 marks the 3rd anniversary since the civil war in Syria started, ultimately changing the lives of more than 5.5 million children. Some three million of Syria’s children have been out of school for almost three years. More than 10,000 kids have been killed.
I interviewed two remarkable women who are making a positive impact in the lives of Syrians.
Rajaa Altalli is the cofounder and co-director of the Center for Civil Society and Democracy in Syria (CCSDS). Ms. Altalli has documented human rights abuses, raised awareness in the international community, and facilitated meetings between Syrian activists and experts worldwide to help protesters on the ground mobilize effectively.
Dr. Rim Turkmani is an astrophysicist at the Imperial College, senior fellow at the Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit at the London School of Economics, science historian and civil society pioneer in Syria. Since the onset of the uprising in Syria she devoted her time to support Syrians in their mission to define their future, emphasizing the importance of peaceful change to achieve democracy. In 2006, she helped found The Damask Rose Trust, a UK based charity that supports developmental initiatives in Syria. In 2013 she founded Madani, a UK registered non-profit that supports the role of Syrian civil society in democratic transition and peace building.
Zeenat Rahman: We’ve seen this horrible conflict in Syria go on for three years. Can you speak about the role of civil society on the ground in Syria as mediators for peace?
Rim Turkmani: Civil society on the ground in Syria is a key player in making peace, either by negotiating ceasefires or by bringing stability by providing services, running schools, treating the wounded. Women in Syria didn't take up arms and so they're an important force who can carry the torch of peace because their image has not been stained by the conflict. (Rim)
Zeenat: What can you tell us about the state of young Syrians who seem to be most affected by this conflict?
Rajaa Altalli: So many of the youth are out of school, not only because the schools are not functioning but also because it is simply not safe to go. Also young people are forced to stop their studies to work to help their families buy food. Since young people like you are future leaders, many organizations like mine - CCSDS - are working with young people to help them learn how to take care of their neighborhoods but also their society. (Rajaa)
Zeenat: What is your message to the many young Americans reading this, especially girls- how can they help to raise awareness?
Rajaa: Young Syrians who have come to the US are telling Americans about the situation in their country, talking at their schools and in their communities, and you can do the same to help raise awareness of what is going on.
Zeenat: From Kansas to Texas, your work serves to inspire young Americans, what would you like to say to them?
Rim: 95 percent of the Syrian people did not take up arms. There are so many young heroes in Syria who you do not see in the news. They are civil society leaders working in an incredibly dangerous situation to provide food and shelter, protect young children, running schools. Please remember, support, and speak about these unsung heroes.
Learn how you can take action for the children of Syria here.
About the author:
Zeenat Rahman serves as Secretary Kerry’s Special Adviser on Global Youth Issues and Director of the Office of Global Youth Issues (J/GYI). Under her leadership, the office operates as a nexus between policy and practice, incorporating youth voices into critical debates that help shape global affairs.