Sarah Hunaidi, The First Cry For Freedom
- By: Mona Katoub
- updated: March 30, 2020
- reading time: 8 Minutes and 18 seconds
Sarah Hunaidi was a high school (11th grade) student when the revolution started in 2011. Her participation in the revolution began with writing anti-regime posts on her Facebook account, using her explicit name, which was the reason for receiving many threats later. She also participated and coordinated flash protests that were staged in Suwaida and its villages. Sarah wanted to participate in a demonstration, but when her family prevented her from leaving, she left from her room window. She said she did not forget the moment when she screamed “Freedom” for the first time as a citizen first, and then as a girl in a society that criticizes women if they laughed loudly, not to mention shouting and calling for freedom!
Although Sarah was only seventeen, when the revolution started, she had formed a complete idea of the corrupt dictatorial regime that governed her country through reading, personal experiences of people she knew, slogans and chants to glorify the leader she was obliged to memorize by heart as well as so many other things; all of that was a sufficient and rational reason for the revolution. Therefore she was shocked to see many people around her did not participate in the revolution. However, she tried to find excuses for them, including their fear for their children and their concern about securing their livelihood and their good knowledge of the harsh regime ruling them, because they were older and they lived under the eras of both Assads, the father and the son. Sarah says she felt the need for a revolution on politics, society, religion, traditions and law that doesn’t protect women and justifies honor crimes for example.
“The small steps achieved now will generate greater achievements in the future and that change takes time. In the past, we were not used to the idea of women representing people in the political arena. Now, thanks to SWPM and other similar movements, this became common place. Therefore, after some time, the idea of having women in decision-making positions will also be intuitive”.
Her interest in politics is based on her understanding that politics govern our daily and personal lives and is not separate from them. Therefore, Sarah says, we must have sufficient political awareness and realize our rights and duties as citizens, women and men. This is specifically so that before the revolution, talking politics was a taboo for people, therefore it was only natural for political action to face many challenges after the revolution, the most important of which were dispersion, divisions, extremism and affiliation to foreign parties. As for personal challenges that Sarah faces in politics as a woman, they are related to not taking her political views or whatever she was seriously, just because she is a woman. In addition to that, the constant concern for her family, which still lives in Syria, knowing that her political activity may put them under risk on a daily basis.
Sarah joined SWPM because she found that it represents all the ideas and objectives she believes in. SWPM also works on increasing women representation in political arena and it has made important steps in this area. SWPM is actively seeking to bring women to decision-making positions side by side with men, because it believes that Syria it is seeking to build is a democratic Syria in which all citizens are equal, women and men. Sarah believes that SWPM has eliminated the gap or the distance between women inside and outside Syria and this is very positive.
Sarah believes that the small steps achieved now will generate greater achievements in the future and that change takes time. “In the past, we were not used to the idea of women representing people in the political arena. Now, thanks to SWPM, this became common place. Therefore, after some time, the idea of having women in decision-making positions will also be intuitive.” Sarah said.
“I do not consider that I participated in the revolution, in comparison with other people who were way braver than me. But for a girl living in Suwaida at that time, where the majority decided to remain neutral, or at least remain silent, opponents were under the threat of being prosecuted and double scrutiny checks. Therefore, the mere participation in a small demonstration or writing an opposing opinion on Facebook were enough to make me a target for the regime. Although I always studied my steps, but I was very scared of being detained as a girl, especially when I hear what women are exposed to In detention, therefore, after I finished high school, I decided that I would not study at Damascus University, so I had to leave Syria alone in 2014, after receiving many threats, and my family stayed there because we had different opinions.”
Sarah went first to Lebanon and worked there in the field of translation with several organizations, but she couldn’t register in the university there because of the difficulty of paying the college tuitions, as well as the complications of obtaining the required documents because she was Syrian. She went to Turkey and moved between Gaziantep and Antioch, where she also worked as a translator with refugees and participated in psycho-social support trainings and other courses for strengthening women and rehabilitating children. Sarah says that in Turkey she had no other choice and continued to work with refugees for about three years until she began to forget her dream of continuing to study at university, writing and publishing, until refugees began to leave for Europe by sea.
Sarah tried to go to Europe by sea, but she stepped back at the last minute because she was afraid of sea, especially that she doesn’t know how to swim. So she began to apply for a scholarship with US universities until she was admitted to DePaul University in Chicago and moved on to start a new journey in the United States. During her first year there, Sarah managed to find work as a translator with Refugee-One organization which provide support for refugees. She ran a program of home-schooling for women and children. She tried to stay close to her community and did not want to lose it because of the fact of being distant, so she published articles in Arabic and she communicated with people in Syria on a daily basis, to know what is going on there in detail. Sarah says that studying politics in USA helped her understand the true meaning of political action.
“I dream of Syria that is safe and free of fear of the regime or the other. Syria that encompasses all people, regardless of their differences, and treat them equally under fair laws that protect and respect women. A Syria that doesn’t criminalize talking in politics.”
Sarah says that translating the Diary of Samira al-Khalil helped her adapt to the new place because she felt that by translating and documenting these stories experienced by those people, including the daily suffering from the siege and other agonies, she felt that she contributed to keeping these stories alive in the minds of people, despite the moments of guilt she felt because she chose to leave the country.
Sarah believes that in order to continue the struggle and defend our cause, we must not forget that our first enemy and the first terrorist is the Assad regime and that it must be held accountable for its crimes. The rights of martyrs, the absentees and the displaced should be restored. We must also work together to write our true history for future generations, to prevent the distortion of truth and writing a false history that distorts and negates the existence of the revolution, by the regime and its supporters and loyalists.
In addition to her first cry for freedom, which she screamed out loud in her city at the beginning of the revolution, then experiencing the feeling of belonging to the people of her country with whom she worked and for whom she worked during her years in Turkey, Sarah says that the most beautiful moments of the revolution were the moment she received the approval of publishing the Diary of Samira al-Khalil. The worst moments of those years were the death of her cousin by the Syrian Arab Army, who was the first martyr in Suwayda. In addition to that, whenever she heard the sounds of shelling on her neighbors in Daraa, she felt guilty, helpless and overwhelmed for not being able to do anything for them. She adds that one of the most difficult moments she experienced was when the first demonstration in Shahba was staged, and Shabiha attacked the protesters, she helped some of them to hide behind her house and in her home and her neighbors’. Then Shbaiha attacked the house with stones for an hour. She says that it was the longest hour in her life. In addition to so many moments that she still cannot talk about it till this day.
Sarah dreams of a Syria that is safe and free of fear of the regime or the other. Syria that encompasses all people, regardless of their differences, and treat them equally under fair laws that protect and respect women. Syria that doesn’t criminalize talking in politics.
Sarah says: “I would like to tell the women of Syria that we have to work hard to get what we want. Some women must forget the way they were brought up which convinced them that they are less worthy than men. Women must learn how to re-program themselves, their perspective towards themselves and other women, in order to get out of the shell that the community, religion and traditions wanted her to stay in. Our ideas, humanity and objectives bring us together as women. We must always be hand in hand to get our freedom; nothing can prevent us from realizing our goals if we want to.”