ALPHARETTA, Ga. –There have been an estimated 100,000 causalities due to the Syrian uprising that started in 2011. Mercer University student Lena Hamvas recently spent time in the war-torn part of the world and came back with plenty of stories to tell.
Majoring in global health, specifically with refugee relief, Hamvas is a community activist in the local north metro communities and also volunteers at the Ed Isakson YMCA in Alpharetta.
Hamvas, a Marietta, Ga., resident of Syrian descent, had the opportunity to visit Jordan in May through the Syrian-American Medical Society, where 20 percent of Syrian refugees are taking shelter in overcrowded border refugee camps. The other 80 percent are living on the streets of Jordan.
“I visited Syria constantly throughout my childhood,” Hamvas said recently. “I couldn’t believe this was happening to the country who made me who I am.”
Hamvas recalled childhood memories with her family in Syria and the hospitability she indulged in throughout her visits. She continues to participate in the traditions she learned during her visits to Syria as well. Moreover, Hamvas said that poverty and turmoil were not significant during that period of her life.
Syria’s civil war began with protests against President Bashar-Al Assad’s regime and has reached its three-and-a-half year threshold. There are now millions of refugees pouring out of the ravaged country. Of the many refugees she met in her time in Jordan, Hamvas said she vividly remembers meeting two young Syrians who have had their own encounters with the government.
Twenty-seven-year-old Alma lies paralyzed in a hospital in Amman after she claims she was kidnapped, tortured, mutilated and gang-raped multiple times a day for 38 days along with many other college-aged women. This was a means of reprimanding the women for being part of the opposing side during the initial uprising, she said. After the torture ended, soldiers paralyzed Alma’s spine (while she was pregnant with her fifth child) and sent her back to her husband and children. Disgusted after hearing of Alma’s rape and involvement with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), her husband resolved to re-marry and take the children away from her.
“Alma said the worst part of it all was when the men would say ‘you’ve had your share, it’s my turn now,’ as if she was a piece of meat. A tear rolled down her face as she repeated that sentence,” Hamvas said.
Women are not the only victims of war, however. Hamvas also met with a 12-year-old boy who somehow managed to escape the daily shellings and street shootings in his neighborhood. Unfortunately, he did not leave unscathed. The boy saw his own father and uncle shot in the streets of Syria and, as he stood crying at his father’s funeral, Syrian soldiers attacked the mourners. He had no choice but to jump inside his father’s grave and take shelter next to the dead body until the attack at the funeral was over.
Many of the refugees in the conflict are children and women. Hamvas said she has made it her life’s purpose to bring education to these refugees and raise awareness about the conflict.
She is in the process of starting up a school in Jordan for the Syrian youth.
“Education is the only way to prevent the ‘lost generation,’” she said. “These kids will be the ones to take over when the Syrian conflict is resolved.”
She has also applied for a Fulbright Scholarship to Jordan so she can work with the American Embassy to further help. Recently, she did a workshop in Prague, Czech Republic to give more insight about the living conditions and the conflict, and she plans to present this workshop on her college campus as well.
“The only way we can make a difference is if we get people to start thinking,” Hamvas said. “If the people in our own country start asking for change, our government will have to take action.”