Syria was once a vibrant and prosperous country like Australia, with a population of 23 million people.
But since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, almost half of the population has been displaced. A brief ceasefire in Aleppo ended this week with many civilians still trapped in the besieged city. No aid has entered Aleppo since 7 July and the UN predicts food rations will run out by the end of the month.
Last year, the Australian government promised to resettle 12,000 refugees from Syria. One of the refugees, Norma Medawar, has started a magazine called Beloved Syria – Considering Syrian Perspectives, which she hopes will help Australians learn about her homeland.
The magazine aims to present the rich culture of Syria and convey the strength of its people. It features poetry in English and Arabic, photos of life in Syria before the conflict and interviews with Syrians. The first edition of the quarterly magazine was launched in late September in Melbourne.
Prior to the conflict, Ms Medawar was a tour guide and an English tutor. She has witnessed firsthand the atrocities of the war – her uncle was kidnapped in 2012 and one of her cousins was killed.
Ms Medawar now lives in Melbourne and co-edits the magazine with Susan Dirgham, who offers support to migrants at AMES (Adult Multicultural Education Services).
“We hope the images and voices bring Syria and its people alive,” the editors wrote in a note addressed to the reader.
“Like other peoples, Syrians are united by common human values that can light up the heart and provide hope and joy.
“This issue of the magazine points to Syria’s rich history, the diversity of its population, the beauty of Syria, the love Syrians have for their country, and the strength and power of Syria’s women. There is a life force in women that can’t easily be crushed.”
The contributors come from a variety of faiths and, as the editors remarked, “there is a spiritual connectedness felt by people of all faiths – God and Allah are one in Syria.”
Some of the interviewees have sought refuge in countries including Italy, Sweden and Germany. Others remain trapped in Syria as war continues to ravage the country. Ms Medawar still maintains contact with her friends in Syria, mostly through Facebook, and some have shared their experiences in the magazine.
One of the interviewees, Najah, is a 48-year-old teacher living in Syria. She spoke about maintaining resilience in the face of adversity.
“What fills me with hope is that I can still talk about the beautiful Syria, the sweet memories and the safety we felt; this gives me the strength to go on,” she said.
“What enables me to find the courage to go on and stay sane? My faith in God, my love for Syrians, and despite all the difficulties I can still walk, work and dream, and life goes on,” she said.