Reem Al-Ahmad, Contributing Writer
A young girl in front of a small store in Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. Source: Rajaa Shoukfeh.

Sitting in my eighth grade Arabic class reading Men in the Sun, a profound novella by the literary innovator Ghassan Kanafani, I found myself fueled by activism and appreciation for Palestinian and Syrian diasporas. My fatalistic attitude retired. 

I am a third culture kid: born into one culture, raised in another and educated by a third. As a result of my experiences, I developed a unique understanding of the world, equipped with a strong social conscience to bring positive change and an internal compass to navigate the desensitized media coverage of my homelands.

When I learned of my ancestors’ painful history, it awoke a deep yearning for justice. I became more aware of the daily systemic injustices incurred by other marginalized communities. Living in the Middle East during the Arab Spring, I was exposed to the abortive dreams, dispossession and marginalization Arabs faced. I was compelled to take action.

During the summer of 2015, my annual trips to Jordan became about more than me. The Zaatari Refugee Camp called my name. My time there was a far cry from conventional volunteerism. I didn’t build an orphanage or save babies. Instead, I prepared food, organized fundraisers and taught English to refugees. 

At the Zaatari Refugee Camp, I was confronted with a harsh reality of the inadequate medical care for the sick and suffering living in squalor. Since 2015 until today, I got to know them, be there for them, bring smiles to their faces, watch the children grow and listen to their stories and dreams. I realized that I have gained far more than I have given them. I was inspired to extend my efforts beyond my summers when I moved to the U.S. I hope that I one day see my friends from Zaatari in a better place. 

At the University of Michigan, I immersed myself in spaces with passionate, like-minded individuals who aim to initiate positive change. My Levantine roots ignited a moral responsibility to provide humanitarian aid and raise awareness of the Syrian refugee crisis, which led me to Students Organize for Syria. 

As a student-led initiative, we strive to educate students about Syria and advocate and fundraise for refugees both locally and globally. I also worked with Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, where I realized a family that wears keffiyehs together, fights for a free Palestine together. 

Outside of my involvement in activist organizations, I am blessed to be a part of a space where empowered Arab women empower women. Epsilon Alpha Sigma Sorority Inc. is not only a home away from home, but a space that promotes the diversity that exists among Arabs. Given that our Arab identities are politicized, ΕΑΣ is unique in that it brings women together regardless of affiliations to unapologetically embrace our culture. 

My fellow sisters call me “Bint Al Quds,” which translates into Daughter of Jerusalem, because of my dreams of a free Palestine.

Diasporic Palestinians have endured intergenerational trauma from the Nakba, an Arabic word meaning catastrophe, which refers to the ethnic cleansing of indigenous Palestinians and the near-total destruction of Palestine. The Nakba isn’t just a traumatic moment in history — it still ripples through every generation. 

We fight for a reality where our catastrophe becomes our salvation, our right to return. 

Children collecting drinking water at Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. Source: Mustafa Bader.

As conflict plagues Syria, centuries of deep-rooted history are destroyed. Many are displaced and denied access to basic goods, such as food and water. Children are robbed of their innocence, childhood and homes. 

Damascus, the oldest city in the world, once the city of dreams and memories, is now buried under millions of tons of rubble. Lives were left behind and lives are built, both aching for a Syria free of tyranny.  

Looking through the lens of the diaspora communities, we see young Palestinians and Syrians obtaining degrees and excelling in all fields, ranging from medicine to the arts. This highlights the resilience and innovative nature of Arabs in the diaspora as they continue to prosper wherever they establish their roots. They are a force to be reckoned with. 

While the struggle against colonialism, racism and disenfranchisement hasn’t ended, we can join together to correct historical injustice, seek freedom and promote equality rather than sit back silently and watch oppression win. 

I hope I live to see a free Syria and Palestine instead of living in my mother’s tales — blurry with tears. We are the next generation of peace in the Middle East, and may peace prevail on Earth.

Reem Al-Ahmad is a senior at the University of Michigan majoring in Biomolecular Science and minoring in Business. She is involved in Students Organize for Syria, Epsilon Alpha Sigma Sorority, Inc. Empowered Arab Sisterhood, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality and the Arab Student Association. Her social media is linked below.