Hope is the thing that flickers

Tales of Two Cities

“Humanity has become an isolated island among wild waves of discrimination and extremism. On this island live those isolated few, their voices fading in the midst of the roaring cries for vengeance and murder. I’m not optimistic about a population increase on that island anytime soon. But maybe in the future, people will migrate to it and try to get to know this thing called humanity that we’ve all been stripped of.

“What I fear most is if a time comes when we pass by that island and cry in dismay: ‘Alas, nobody lives there anymore.’ “

— Bassem Yousef

There are so many times when I find my faith in humanity lost. It’s difficult, trying to keep that little flicker of hope alive when all I can see is the evil that war brings out in people. How can hope live on after one watches a YouTube video of a man being buried alive, his barely audible voice begging and wailing for his life from underneath the mound of dirt? Or after one watches a CNN report on children’s malnutrition, so severe that it has begun to cause bone fractures?

Every week, a new horrifying story in Syria arises, and by the time we get used to it and start getting desensitized, another shocking reality hits our newsfeeds. One week, we’re reading about Islamic extremists’ laws banning women from sitting in the company of men and whipping any man who cuts his hair or beard. Then we are sickened by a new harrowing story of rape, followed by the haunting image of starving Syrians cutting up a zoo lion for food. Chemical attacks and massacres are not the only atrocities happening today.

So how can hope still exist?

Late Sunday night, I got a Facebook message from a friend whom I haven’t seen in months. She had read an earlier post of mine in which I urged Black Friday shoppers to contribute to a blanket drive for Syrian refugees going on this week. Her message asked me where she could drop off the blanket she had bought for the drive.

I almost cried.

These past few weeks, my Facebook newsfeed has been exploding with posts on different projects — most notably, the Karam Foundation’s winter project, Zeitouna — all calling for help and donations for Syrian refugees. Berkeley may have only two types of weather (cold and warm), but Syria has four. And although Syria is breathtaking when it’s covered in a fresh blanket of sparkling snow, its living conditions become even harsher, especially when you have a thin tent for a home and the icy ground for streets.

The fact that UC Berkeley students collected more than 100 bags of clothing and blankets and more than $2,100 in donations for refugees and displaced people in Syria is a sign that humanity is not dead. The fact that people I know are, at this moment, traveling to Syria, Turkey and Iraq, planning workshops and trainings and distributing donations and clothes, is a sign that humanity is not dead. I cannot reassure Bassem Yousef about the future: I, too, fear the world may someday be stripped of its humanity. But it is because of people like those volunteers and those students that hope still lives on within me.

There is a destroyed wall in the city of Saraqeb in Syria on which someone scribbled, “We die here in silence.” I do not personally know the person who wrote that message. But I know it is difficult to believe that humanity still exists when all one sees is the world standing idly by, allowing horrors to continue on a daily basis.

I wish I could expand my flicker of hope so that it touches every Syrian life. Instead, I will do everything in my power to remind the world that we are dying, every day. And if the world does not listen, then it will be my own personal reminder, a reality that pushes me to work harder and give back more in the hopes that someday, no one will ever have to die in silence.

Whoever wins the war now is not winning anything. Syria has been pushed past the point of destruction, and still the fighting continues, draining life out of its land and its people. We are losing Syria: There is no denying that. And with this, we are losing hope. But I have found that hope is a renewable resource. Those 100 bags of clothes will not protect every Syrian child from the bitterness of winter, but they will make a difference in a lot of lives.

It’s hope that pushes us to hold drives, plan trips, ask for donations. It may only be a flicker, and it may seem like it’s going out most nights, but it exists, and it’s all we have. This tiny spark of hope has more power than we know.

Sarah Dadouch writes the Friday column on global perspectives of Berkeley. You can contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @SarahDadouch.