By Cedric Prakash, SJ
There is something remarkable about Randa Maghribi.
The Syrian refugee, who now lives Baalbek, Lebanon, wants the children of the world to hear her story.
The courageous woman, who is called Randa, has braved all odds; over the years. She has seen and experienced hunger, deprivation, bombardments, destruction and death. She, however, refuses to be defeated. She has an indomitable spirit.
Her poignant story written in Arabic is illustrated with her own paintings. At her book launch at the JRS (Jesuit Refugee Service) Social Education Centre in Baalbek on April 11, Randa was all smiles. “Today is the happiest day of my life,” she said.
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. There were some Lebanese women too. It was 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.
The cynosure of all eyes was Randa. She shared with the audience the compelling reasons that prompted her to write the story, “Arragheef Alyabes” (“The Dry Bread”). Although it reads like a fairy tale; in reality, 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).
After writing the story, Randa first read it out to her two little sons — Akram (12) and Hamza (6). They simply loved it.
Randa wants children to understand the pangs of hunger and the desperation of a displaced person, who flees to a safe place only to realize he has nowhere to go.
She hopes that her story would inspire many children: to help them realize that food is a basic right for all and they must ask for it; to help them care for and 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 narrates her story, several painful memories overwhelm her. He younger sister died in childbirth and her nieces and nephews survived on cat’s meat. She also recalls 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 colors. 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.’ 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 says 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. He sons receive the needed attention and the academic coaching from 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 in Baalbek, echoes the sentiments of many, “Randa, symbolizes for all of us, strength and hope. She is a great example of a woman, who achieves her goals, in spite of much difficulty and suffering. Someone who is helping make this world a better place.”
Randa’s story is remarkable and she tells it in a remarkable way. Her story needs to be listened and shared. Randa after all, is a remarkable woman.