MARIE-ROSE JARROUJ, (23), a Syrian Greek Orthodox student of engineering, lives with her family in the Al-Hamidiya neighborhood in the old city of Homs, Syria, which has a Christian majority; it is one of the most heavily damaged areas in Homs. Here she talks about coming of age during her country’s civil war:
“My family came from the village of Ein al-Wadi, but we have been living in Al-Hamidiya for a long time. When the war started in Homs in 2011, the first area hit by war was the Bab Saba area, where my school was located. I was in High School at that time and had to move to another school. There were demonstrations on Fridays, and also at night. Loud voices made for tension and anxiety. We were afraid; we would seek shelter in a room for from the street or in the kitchen. We prayed, we sang, we repeat hymns—we laughed and we played with my little nephew.
“My mother, my sisters, and I also curled up in the church choir. In fact, as the crisis escalated, my activities in the church were also reduced. My primary goal was to study. I felt that education and knowledge were the only weapons I could get at that time—so I insisted on excellence.
“We used to go to St. George’s Church in Al-Hamidiya; this church was badly damaged, like most of the churches in Homs, but thank God there are renovations underway in most of the city’s churches. I was also involved in social, cultural, spiritual and recreational activities with the Evangelical Church. The various denominations have much in common. We have to live with others in harmony and cohabit with them in all details of life; we have many Muslim friends and there are family visits between us. It is not right to ask the other, ‘what is your religion?’ Or, ‘what is your doctrine?’ We must treat one another humanely regardless of the difference between us. That is the reality of our society.
“My mother is a doctor working in the national hospital in Homs, and the road to her work has become precarious. She works in the emergency room, day and night, at no specific times. During 2011-2012 my mother survived sniper fire many times, but unfortunately our family driver got killed. Driving my mother’s colleagues to work one time, he was shot in the head.
“The danger was very close to us every day; my mother would not let my father accompany her so that the two would not be at risk together. So, she did not give up her humanitarian duties at work, and I did not give up my studies.
“We sought refuge in our house in our village, where we used to spend holidays. I changed schools again and we remained there for several years. We kept following the news and heard that Al-Hamidiya was being destroyed; our house with all its memories and our precious was heavily damaged.
“Our house was located at the first line of fire. Thank God, throughout this period, no one in my family was harmed. Then, about two years ago, we managed to return to Al-Hamidiya and we saw our home for the first time after several years; it was no longer a house—it needed to be rebuilt completely. Thank God, there are associations that, in coordination with the Church, are supporting the affected families; and now our house is being restored—the whole area is gradually returning to life.
“All along, my teachers, who were also displaced from their homes, came to our house in the village and gave me private lessons, so that I could complete High School. I graduated with good marks and enrolled to study engineering. I want to become an engineer just like my father.
“This will allow me to contribute to the reconstruction of Syria, as it recovers from the devastation of the war. Homs needs the energies and experiences of a young people, not only in terms of their study, but also in the social, psychological and humanitarian realms. I am trying to expand my participation in this process; plus, given the gradual improvement of the situation, my participation in Church activities has picked up again.
“What happened in Homs was very hard. Still, we did not think about emigrating because we have strong commitments here and ties with our local community—the idea of emigration was totally unacceptable to my father. He feels rooted in the land and leaving Syria is not for him.
“I have a great faith in God—and I do not think back to the days I was sad; I always went about my daily life, as it should be. Today, danger is still close, but I always say: ‘God is with me.’ Through His mercy, our living situation is now much better. Security, electricity and water have returned to Homs. Gradually, life has begun to return to the city; the streets and roads have returned to being a little congested—this holds the promise that tomorrow will certainly be better.”