From a dusty field in Mafraq, Jordan, 7 miles from the Syrian border, I watched smoke trail through the sky from the bombs falling on a city in the distance. To me, this was more than just a symbol of the violence in Syria. That city was once home to my friend Ola.
In 17 years, my friend has endured more loss and more trauma than most people experience in a lifetime. Ola wants to ensure that no one will go through this much pain in the future. Although she feels limited in her ability to work toward this goal in her current situation, Ola wants to start her mission by sharing her story.
In October, during one of our many conversations on her hospital bed in Amman, I asked Ola about her life in Syria. “I was a spoiled child, forced to grow up overnight,” she told me. We sat in silence. A few moments later, she turned to me, “Anything else?” I did not need to ask her any more questions. I knew exactly what she meant.
Feb. 13, 2013, Ola went to school as usual. Still, she felt that something was wrong. During a break between classes, she pulled her best friend aside and wrote her a note in her book. Before handing the book back to her friend she said, “Promise me that you will not read this until fate allows.” Her friend was confused but agreed to not read the note.
Inside of the book Ola wrote, “This is my writing. This is so that if you do not see me for a long time, you can remember me. I love you.” It was the last time she saw her friend.
That afternoon, Ola found her mother in the kitchen and begged her to take the family out of Syria. Her mother refused. Angrily, Ola left the room and joined her brother and sisters for the afternoon prayer. This was the last time she saw her mother.
As they prayed, Ola and her siblings heard bombs outside. When the noise stopped, she went with her sister to see where the bombs had fallen. Afraid, Ola ran into the house. Seconds later, she felt as if her body was on fire. A bomb had hit her home, and launched shrapnel into her spine and lungs.
Ola was rushed to the hospital, where she was told she had a four percent chance of survival. She was immediately transported to Jordan for treatment. She said she had made it through that night by thinking about seeing her mother again. In the morning, she learned her mother had died.
Ola spent the next nine months in a Jordanian medical center awaiting surgery to remove the shrapnel from her spine. The doctors were reluctant to operate because there was a 50 percent chance the surgery would result in paralysis. The operation was completed successfully.
When I met Ola in July, I asked her about her dreams for the future. She told me she could not hope for anything because all of her dreams in Syria had been crushed by the onset of war.
I pressed her on the question and she confessed to me that her dream was to live in a house with her siblings who had been taken to the Za’atari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan.
I set out to make her dream a reality. Through a crowd-funding website, I was able to raise the money to help Ola rent a small apartment in Amman with her remaining family members.
Today, Ola lives with her cousins, aunt and younger siblings in a two-room apartment in Irbid, Jordan. She experiences post-traumatic stress daily, but this does not stop her from having dreams.
Ola hopes to go to college, where she wants to study English. Eventually, she wants to become an ambassador so that she can work to prevent conflicts like the one in Syria from happening in the future.
When you think of Ola, do not reduce her to a refugee in need of pity. Instead, when you think of Ola, think of someone who does not let her circumstances interfere with her goals. From Ola, you should be inspired. Use this inspiration to take action on her behalf of Ola and the more than 2.5 million people who have been affected by the Syrian conflict.
In a recent email, Ola shared her life philosophy with me:
“1) If you want to do something, go for it.
2) Life is not about finding yourself. It is about creating yourself.
3) Have confidence in yourself. Be positive. Do not hurt anyone.
4) Do not be sad if life is hard on you. Darkness makes the moon shine
On that same night in Mafraq, Jordan, sunset passed and the sky grew black, obscuring the bomb smoke from my view. The moon appeared, bigger and brighter than I had ever seen it. Darkness may make the moon shine brighter, but the violence does not stop once it is out of sight. The events in the news are not over when we recycle our newspapers or turn off our televisions. For this reason, we must work to ensure that the stories of the lives affected do not cease to be told.