Syria Was Once Heaven

Interview conducted by Sarah Squires, Communications Officer and Kamal Shbeir, Media and PR Manager / Photography by Richard Juilliart

Since the Syrian war began in 2011, more than one million people have fled to Lebanon seeking safety and shelter. Today Lebanon has the world’s largest number of refugees per capita. One in four people in Lebanon is a refugee.  

       (UNHCR, 2016)


You are standing in a room that is less than 15 square metres. A light bulb flickers overhead, throwing a harsh light across a room that in reality is no more than a box. Foam cushions form a makeshift sofa/bed, and although they should offer a brief respite as the day comes to an end, you feel the cold slabs beneath you as you lay you head down to rest. A television hums in the background barely drowning out the incessant whirring of a generator that sits precariously by your only window. Washrooms are shared with dozens of families and your water source is a rickety pipe that scales the stained walls of this decaying building.

But you are never alone, because within the walls of this collective shelter live many families like yours. They know your pain. They also lost everything.

This is where Nariman lives. In a room with her family.

Nariman - Lebanon

Nariman in Lebanon

Nariman: “I’m 13 years old and I come from Aleppo. We came here two years ago because of the bombing and destruction. Our house was destroyed and we couldn’t stay there. I have four brothers; I don’t have sisters – I’m the youngest. Three of my brothers went to Germany. As for our relatives in Syria, no one is in Aleppo due to the destruction of the city. Maybe one or two families are there still but the rest have fled to the countryside – the majority left to Turkey. We speak to each other almost every month. Every time we speak they cry and ask us to come back and stay with them in the countryside where it’s safe.”

Khadija - Lebanon

Khadija (Nariman’s mother)

Khadija (Nariman’s mother): “I have five children. We used to live in Syria and we were happy. All of my children went to school except for the eldest who is handicapped – he used to go to a special school. He couldn’t handle work or school, so we suggested that he learned a profession so he can provide for his family when he gets married. I owned a large grocery store to provide for my children. I was happy – we had built a house. My husband and I were separated for almost six to seven years but life was good in general, it couldn’t get any better. We had our dignity and pride. We had money and everything, until the day came when we lost everything.”

Nariman - school bus

Nariman on her way to school in Lebanon

Nariman: “I was very upset about leaving Syria. My friends and relatives cried when we left. I was deeply affected by it as I never wanted to come here at all. I’d rather have stayed in Syria. First, we left to the village in the countryside where we stayed for a couple of months but we couldn’t cope as we weren’t used to it so we went back to Aleppo, took our clothes and left to Lebanon.” Although she was sad to leave Syria, Nariman was also relieved to no longer fear for her life: “When I first arrived in Lebanon we settled in Jezzine. I was truly happy for the first few days because I couldn’t hear any bombing or see any blood on the floor, but I’m no longer happy because I’m far away from Syria.”

Khadija - collective shelter - Lebanon

The room where Khadija and her family live

Khadija: “We were in our house in Syria and I sent my sons to call their brother in Lebanon…then the artillery bombing started – there were multiple attacks during the evening. My sons hadn’t returned home, so I left the house barefoot to look for them. I knew they were going to the post office to call their brother and I’d heard that the strike targeted the post office, but thank god my sons weren’t there. They returned home. We escaped early in the morning with aircrafts hovering above us. I’d already packed up my children’s belongings and almost everything else because I knew that at any given minute I’d have to leave. We took our belongings and left from our house to Karnak, where we boarded the bus – it was a two and a half hour walk. The bus driver was frightened to death and instructed everyone not to crowd around because the air force could strike at any gathering they noticed.”

Collective shelter - Lebanon

Collective shelter in Lebanon

Nariman: “Dad doesn’t live with us. He was with us in Syria two years ago but one day he went to work – he’s an Arabic teacher – and didn’t come back. We tried to search for him but found out that he was taken by ISIS. He was missing for a year and a half. When the fighting started between the Free Syrian army and ISIS all prisoners were released, my dad was among them. He called us and came to Lebanon only to find out that he had tuberculosis. The doctor said that he needed to be treated in an isolated room and that he couldn’t stay with us. He went to Syria through the Turkish borders where he was treated. He returned to work but was captured again…we still haven’t heard anything about him.”

Nariman and Khadija

Nariman and Khadija

The life Nariman and her mother lead today stands in stark contrast to their previous life, which is no more than a memory they desperately cling to. Khadija: “What I now wish for my daughter, my son and everyone else is that the situation in Syria gets better. I hope that they finish their studies, along with other children of their age, and that their generation returns to Syria to rebuild it. I feel lost. I’ve never been separated from my sons before. I don’t want anything now other than the chance to be reunited with my sons.” Khadija points to the splintered mirror on the wall and explains that it represents how she feels inside – fractured with a broken heart.

Nariman and GFP participants

Nariman with children and youth from the shelter

Nariman: “I rap and when I do it’s about Syria. I like Ismail Tamar, he’s a good singer. He sings about how Syria once was – there’s a song called ‘Syria Was Once Heaven’. He also wrote a song about Aleppo along with many about the bombings and refugees. His songs are so beautiful.” With home weighing heavily on her mind, she adds: “What I miss most about Syria is that I spent all my life there – all my memories are still in Syria. I dream of continuing my studies, so I can become something in the future and go back to Syria. Everyone must study in order for us to rebuild Syria again. If we don’t rebuild it, then who will?”

Although Nariman knows the road ahead is long she is determined to return to Aleppo one day: “The dreams I spoke of must be pursued endlessly in order to become true, but we must have patience and perseverance and never give up.”


** Earlier this year Generations For Peace was awarded a grant from the European Union, through its European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, to implement a programme that focuses on social cohesion and promotes the respectful practice of human rights. The programme, which is conducted in collaboration with Development for People and Nature Association and the Beirut Centre for Development and Human Rights, will benefit 6,000 vulnerable Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian youth and community members. Through sport and arts-based activities volunteers will work with communities greatly affected by the Syrian refugee crisis. Keep an eye on GFP’s YouTube channel for a new video coming shortly.

Sign up to our e-newsletter to learn more about the impact of our programmes in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe.

50 Comments on “Syria Was Once Heaven

  1. it really is sad how quickly thing deteriorated in the middle east. currently in school i am studying the Arab Israeli conflict, and it is just depressing how low humanity has become

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing these stories. We all need to be reminded of the humanity within the people we’re being led to fear. May each of us search our hearts and each others’ eyes for answers in this tumultuous time, and not rely on the words and orders of our corrupt leaderships.


  3. This is beautiful, timely, and concrete. What we need now more than anything is a face, a name, a story to assign to “the other.” Thank you.


  4. I was unable to hold off my tears as i was reading through it. i can only imagine what this poor little girl might have been through along with her mother. Her mother’s face depicts the whole story which is nothing but steer horror . i wish , i could heal her in any possible way and make her wish come true . My heart and prayers go out to you .


  5. The case of the Syrian nation is getting out of hand the United nations need to take drastic action to stop this death thread.


  6. Thank you for doing this awesome work, and telling these stories. It really humanizes what is going on.


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  8. This is so heart breaking ! When the UN actually needs to intervene, it doesn’t. This is a major drawback. I had an opportunity of watching a documentary on refugees from Aleppo few days back, and it totally broke my heart! I was so moved and the positivity that they give us. No food to eat, to clothes to wear, no house to live in yet they are so hopeful. Heartbreaking. Truly heartbreaking. May god suffice whatever they are going through.


  9. This is such a sad story and even sadder that it is all too common. I have written a few posts about Syria and the lies in the media. As I will be writing again, could you let me know the Aid Agencies who are trustworthy? I would like to be able to mention these organisations, should anyone wish to contribute in some way.
    Please feel free to read about what I write in my account.
    I wrote this today about the misunderstandings in the persecution of Islam:
    I am surrounded by Syrians, Lebanese, Moroccans, Jordanians and Algerians. Though I am not Muslim, I am a friend of Islam – actually all people of peace and humanity!
    I hope to hear from you.


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  11. I wanted to give a Like to this article, but in the same time I felt like there is nothing to like about this. This is the sad truth and I really hope, one day the words of John Lennon in the song “Imagine”, will come true…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Wonderful, it is so important to share experiences. Makes the world smaller; shows how much we all have in common. Prevents lies from becoming truths. I come from one of the poorest areas in NYC; the South Bronx. I’ve moved on from there, but I visit because those were the times that shaped me.


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  14. Thank you so much for a personal glimpse of your lives. We get so caught up in the day to day news stories that we forget that we are talking about real people with real lives.


  15. What a sad stories, hope that Syria will recover and return to old beautiful country. Please remind the world not to bomb the country incessantly. There is life to be considered. The one who created the most impact in destroying the lands are the super powers with their sophisticated weaponry. Talk don’t bombs.


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  17. the last stanza is so inspiring. everyone should nurture that kind of love for ones country. we must preserve, protect and if there’s a need, rebuild our motherland. my heart goes for Aleppo and to all of Syria.


  18. It saddens me that Americans who have never experienced anything like this seem to have such hatred for these refugees. Unless you were in NY for 911, you cannot clearly imagine the horror. Now imagine if you had that in your lives every day. Having empathetic compassion doesn’t make you disloyal to your country or means that you support terrorists.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I pray that my brothers and sisters from Allepo will get best life in the hereafter! Reading this makes me feel so grateful for everything that I have! Thank you for sharing this


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  21. Greetings! Very useful advice within this post! It is the little changes that make the largest changes.
    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. The ancient world shall uprise and the secret of the ancients shall rule. Syria shall be great once again someday


  23. This is very heartbreaking, to see people that have overcomed so much and still they have hope. Still they have hope for a better life. This teaches you to appreciate your life and to never give up hope. Truly saddening.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Russia, Iran on the hand & US, Saudis on the other played spoil sports for Syria & the country lives in turmoil for over 5 years. Aleppo ruined to the extent of stone age. There is no sanity in continuing with this carnage.


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  26. My heart breaks reading this story! I hope their family is all reunited and in happy circumstances soon – my heart and prayers go out to them and others in similar situations.


  27. This is a very moving story. I hope this will give hope to others who suffered the same in Syria. Thank you for sharing.


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  31. It hurts me to see innocent lives are suffering and we really miss justice and humanity in this world. The same time I admire your bravery and the mindset to overcome these. Thank you for sharing…


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