Syria Civil War: Violence Abroad Hurts College Student in U.S.

The Arab Spring has been a protracted work in progress. It is easy to become desensitized about tyranny and human rights violations when there is no end in sight.  Meanwhile, here in the U.S., we have entered the spring of 2013, and George Washington University student Kenan is fulfilling his dream of becoming a doctor. His dream is to specialize in neurosurgery and one day assist those injured during the Syria war.

Kenan is from Homs, Syria but his story is quintessentially an American story, complete with respect for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Kenan's dream pivots in the backdrop of the sad reality that thousands of children in Syria no longer attend school.  A month ago, students and staff at the University of Damascus in Syria became casualties of war when shells hit the college campus, indiscriminately killing and injuring civilians. This is hard to imagine for someone sitting under the cherry blossoms in Kogan Plaza, at the George Washington University campus. 

Between turning in assignments and spending hours in the library, Kenan spends a great deal of time piecing together information about his family back in Syria. Some of his family members have died, others are still missing, and those he speaks to are weighed down by the heaviness of war and the imminence of death documented by the Human Rights Watch.

Deaths in Syria due to air strikes on civilians have been well-documented. For Kenan, the Human Rights Watch report is part of his family history along with birthdays, photographs and childhood memories.

A few weeks ago, Kenan lost a cousin who was hit by a tank missile; a day after that tragic death, another cousin was killed in a separate incident. Within three days of this second family loss, Kenan found out that three of his cousins had since been reported missing. Sadly, human rights groups in Syria report that thousands of people have been abducted by militias since the beginning of the war.

As Kenan skypes with family in Syria, he realizes life has forever changed; homes have become battlegrounds and his family reminds him that death is imminent. Kenan recalls a conversation he had with a cousin recently: "… we used to think, whoa, we're invincible but when two thirds of your friends that were here (in Homs), they are all dead."

One day when Kenan returns to Syria to fulfil his mission of healing the wounded, much of Homs will be unrecognizable to him; yet, he remains determined to be the healing face of a bloody war. As we hear the sound of missiles on the news, Kenan hears these sounds live, as they punctuate through conversations with loved ones he hopes to see alive.

The work Kenan does in supporting charities and rallies to aide Syria helps him feel like he is somehow contributing to the lives of people whose aspirations and dreams are much like his own. Kenan has lost many of the friends he grew up with, young people that could be living out their own dreams; but until the atrocities are ended, the pursuit of happiness is a fleeting fantasy for millennials in Syria.