There is something remarkable about Randa! This courageous woman has braved all odds; over the years, she has seen and experienced hunger and deprivation; bombardments and suffering; destruction and death. Randa however, is not one to be defeated. She has an indomitable spirit. Today, this Syrian refugee, from her new home in Baalbek, Lebanon wants the children of the world to hear her story. Her story written in Arabic is a poignant one illustrated with her own paintings. At her book launch at the JRS Social Education Centre in Baalbek on April 11th 2017, Randa is all smiles, “today is the happiest day of my life”, she exclaims.
The book launch was part of a ‘Graduation Ceremony’ when 53 women were awarded certificates for successfully completing a course conducted by the JRS, in English, Computer Literacy or in Make-up. Most of the ‘graduates’ were Syrian refugees; though for good measure they were also some Lebanese ladies. A significant intervention to promote a more inclusive society. Some of the graduates spoke about the impact the course has had on their lives, the belonging they have experienced in the JRS Centre and the overall transformative experience, which they have gone through.
Randa Maghribi however, was the cynosure of all eyes. She shared with the audience the compelling reasons that prompted her to write the story. “Arragheef Alyabes” (meaning “The Dry Bread”) reads like a fairy tale; in reality however, it is the story of the suffering and deprivation that she and her family have gone through (which many others in Syria are also going through). Sometime ago after writing it, she first read out the story to her two little sons, Akram (12 yrs.) and Hamza (6 yrs.). They simply loved it. In writing a story ‘for children’, Randa would like children to be aware about the pangs of hunger, of what it means to be a displaced person, desperately fleeing to a place of safety but often, with nowhere to go! She hopes that her story would inspire many children: to help them realise that food is a basic right for all and they must ask for it; to help them care for and to share with others; to welcome and to accept a stranger! This ‘children’s story’ has a very powerful message for adults too! It is a story that needs to be read by all!
As she speaks about her story, several painful memories overwhelm her: the death of her younger sister in childbirth; of how her nieces and nephews had to survive on ‘cat’s meat’; of how hunger can destroy the spirit of almost anyone. “For a hungry person she says even ‘dry bread’ means survival it means hope, and it can give new life”. For Randa, having something to eat is a basic right for every human being and war deprives people of this right.
Randa is also an accomplished artist. She has illustrated her story with more than a dozen paintings in vibrant colours. The pictures vividly capture the mood and the flow of her story. Randa happily points out to some of her other drawings and paintings that decorate the JRS Social Centre. One of them is a ‘Lady on horseback’; when asked if it is a self-portrait, Randa only beams back; one does not need an answer! A modern day ‘Joan of Arc’ has arrived in Baalbek! Randa has a special gift for JRS: a ceramic plate and a bag, on which, the previous evening, she has beautifully painted, her expression of gratitude.
For more than a year now, Randa has been associated with JRS. She is very grateful for the meaning and identity JRS has given her. She is happy because she has successfully completed both the Computer and English courses earlier; more so, because her sons receive the needed attention and the academic coaching provided by JRS. For Randa, life has been one long and difficult journey from her beautiful Al – Zabadani in Syria. Nada El Myr, the Project Director of JRS Baalbek echoes the sentiments of many, “Randa, symbolizes for all of us, strength and hope. A great example of a woman who achieves her goals, inspite of much difficulty and suffering. Someone who is helping make this world a better place.”
Randa’s story is a remarkable one and she tells it in a remarkable way. Her story needs to be listened to and it needs to be shared. Randa after all, is a remarkable woman!
Fr. Cedric Prakash sj