“If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream.” ― Martin Luther King Jr
Moteaa Al Hariri is a Syrian artist. She is also a wife, a devoted mother of six, a teacher, an accomplished woman in everything she puts her hand to, and … a Syrian refugee.
Moteaa studied fine Arts at Damascus University and graduated in 1980. She speaks Arabic, Spanish and French. After she graduated she married Saleem Al Hariri, who was in Spain studying computer programming. The couple lived in Madrid for three years, where she worked as a secretary in the Syrian embassy. Here she gave birth to her first child Faten Al Hariri, who has since become an artist as well.
When her daughter was five months old, the family moved back to Dara’a, Syria. In Syria they had three more children; another daughter and two sons. Moteaa became an art teacher, but left teaching because of societal pressures and became a dressmaker and then a hairdresser. Each time she worked, she was forced to quit because of pressures in her community.
It was years before she could become an art teacher again. At this time she was painting, and began to show her work with other artists. She became a secretary in the Artist Association, and started selling her work. The couple had an olive grove in Dara’a, where they produced and sold olive oil, but it was difficult to provide an education for all their children on this income. As decent paying work was hard to find, Saleem travelled to Kuwait and Moteaa was left to care for her family and household. She worked very hard to become successful in her career. She collected money for her artwork, as well as her salary, and saved carefully for years to help build her own house and help her children with their education.
When the war began in Dara’a, Moteaa lived in constant fear because of the ever present danger her sons and daughters were in. At this time both her daughters were living away from home and attending University in Damascus. No one was safe. Many young men were arrested, and forced to fight for terrorist groups, or killed. Many young women were kidnapped and used as slaves. Assad’s army took their home and most of the contents were destroyed or taken.
Moteaa and her family fled to her eldest daughters’ rented house in Damascus, where they lived for five months. The bombing became unbearable there as well, so they all travelled back to her uncle’s home in Dara’a. They managed to return to their olive grove at that time, but there was nothing left and they were still in great danger. They would wake almost daily by 4:00am or so to the sound of shell fire and explosions, and would be forced to evacuate to their basement till it passed. Most of Syria was under siege by then. After many horrible situations and losing everything, Moteaa left Syria with her family and fled to Amman, Jordan.
Moteaa and her daughters were separated from her eldest son Amjad and her husband. Their cousin was killed on the journey. Amjad made it to Zaatari refugee camp and Salem, her husband, stayed behind and made sure the family crossed the border safely. He is trapped inside Syria still.
Here in Jordan, life has been very difficult. Now she protects her family, and cares for them as best she can alone. They have moved many times. In Jordan she has worked various menial jobs, but many times employers do not pay refugees at all, and never what they are worth. To work legally, they are required to pay for work permits, which are unaffordable to most. Consumer prices rose 53% last year alone. Rents have more than doubled since the onslaught of refugees. Her children have been working freelance and illegally to help support the family, often at great risk.
Because of her generous spirit, Moteaa chose to help other Syrian refugees while she herself lives in exile. She offers her skills and much more at a educational rehabilitation organization in Jordan, teaching art and handcrafts to refugee children and women. They give her food for her family and pay her $75 per month.
“I had high expectations and goals for myself, but I never found the support I needed to achieve them. After having my children I became the one to help them reach their goals and dreams. I now feel helpless. We have lost everything. All that I had to enable my children to continue their education and discover their own path is gone. My greatest wish is to find hope and to be able to dream again.” ~ Moteaa Al Hariri
As difficult as it is for us to imagine the sheer magnitude of the destruction to the people, country, culture and economy, here are some statistics. Syria’s national wealth, infrastructure and institutions have been almost obliterated by the catastrophic impact of nearly five years of conflict, a new report has found. This is an excerpt from an article in The Gaurdian dated February 16, 2016.
“Fatalities caused by war, directly and indirectly, amount to 470,000″, according to the Syrian Centre for Policy Research (SCPR) –”a far higher total than the figure of 250,000 used by the United Nations until it stopped collecting statistics 18 months ago. In all, 11.5% of the country’s population have been killed or injured since the crisis erupted in March 2011, the report estimates. The number of wounded is put at 1.9 million. Indirect deaths will be greater in the future, though most NGOs [non-governmental organisations] and the UN ignore them. Life expectancy has dropped from 70 in 2010 to 55.4 in 2015. Overall economic losses are estimated at US $255 billion (£175n).”