Roula Zahra was born in Homs, Syria. She hardly remembers her father. He died due to some illness when she was barely three. Her mother had to struggle and to bring up the six children: two girls and four boys. It was a herculean task, but the family was able to make both ends meet.
Until war broke out in Syria in March 2011. Overcoming many hurdles, Roula came along with her mother and siblings as refugees to Lebanon. A small apartment in the Bourj Hammoud area of Beirut has been their home ever since. Her sister, who is the eldest among the children, is now married, and lives in the same building. Roula is the youngest and in all frankness says that her brothers treat her very well.
Roula loves to study. She is one of the fortunate refugee children who is able to go to a Government morning- shift school. She is much focussed and wants to pursue a career as a scientist. “What type of scientist, would you like to become?”she was asked. She thinks for a while then shakes her head and says, “I don’t know yet!” When asked if she would like to become a Space Scientist, become an astronaut, and go to the moon or to mars’, she smiles, there is a glint in her eye and boldly she says, “Maybe!” For Roula and for her “everything” the sky is indeed the limit!She is also budding poet and artist. Her drawings speak volumes of her meticulousness and care for detail. However, her poems and jottings personify her passion and zest for life. From her notebook, she reads out a touching poem, which she recently scripted in Arabic. “I wish we could return to those good old days… I hope one day people awake from their deep sleep so they start loving, respecting, giving and the souls return to their old days. I hope that one day we would be able to exchange bread for salt, love for feelings and respect for kind words. Yesterday was a lesson, today is an experience and tomorrow is a new beginning!” Roula is adamant she does not want to return to warn-torn Syria. Instead, she dreams of Australia. Her best friend has now settled down there. Since the past one-year, she has been coming to the JRS FVDL Centre for the afternoon tuition classes. “I love coming here. I make many new friends. I learn many new things. The teachers help me in my homework. Everyone is very helpful and loving”. She looks at the Principal of the FVDL School Angela Abboche and with an amazing smile says, “Yes, even my Principal!”
In her notebook, Roula has a meaningful quote,
“When it is raining look for the rainbow
When it is dark look for the stars”
The “everything” in Roula’s life will have rains and darkness, but she will surely have the courage to see the rainbows and stars in them. It is not every day that one encounters a 14-year Syrian refugee girl who is ready to row out into the deep!
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj
April 7th 2017