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The lives of so many people have changed since the start of the uprising calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down [Getty]

Syrian civil war: How the revolution changed my life

Ward Mardini

Five years have passed since the start of the Syrian uprising. The lives of millions of Syrians have changed ever since. Al Jazeera has closely followed the stories of five individuals who live in the besieged areas around Damascus. They have experienced both the positive and inspiring parts of the revolution, but also witnessed the grim realities as the country spiralled into a bloody civil war. Before the revolution, I was a teacher at the Ahmad al-Shami school and deputy head teacher at the Community Education School, operated by a charity organisation in Douma. I used to study geography at Damascus University, specialising in electronic map design.

I didn’t graduate from university because I was dismissed from college for security reasons after I had been arrested.I have participated in revolution-related activities since the beginning of the Syrian uprising. First working as a coordinator, then in the first-aid response and medical treatment of those injured. I later took part in many other activities because of the intensity of the work in Douma.

I was once arrested for four hours for taking part in a protest. However, I didn’t expect to be arrested again. But I was detained once more in Damascus in an ambush as I was held in a Kafr Souseh security office. I was held for one month and was released in an exchange-of-prisoner deal that led to the release of 48 Iranians who had been captured by the Baraa Brigades.

I was released on December 1, 2012, and since then, I have decided to dedicate all my time to civil work. With the help of my friends, I founded the Iqra Centre, an elementary education centre for children.  On January 1, 2015, I was appointed director of the Office of Women’s Affairs in Eastern Ghouta.

A turning point in my life during those five years happened on December 13, 2015, when the regime forces targeted the school where I was teaching.  The regime fired missiles at the school. The schoolyard was full of injured children and teachers. The blood of the injured children was everywhere. It was then when my viewpoint towards the war changed.

I was a big supporter of the armed action at the beginning, but I had to ask myself: What is all of this for? Our children, whose future is the main reason behind the revolution – to create a better, brighter life for them – are now being killed by our enemies. On that day, I knew deep down that the bloodshed simply wasn’t worth it.

Shortly after I was released from prison, I received an offer to work abroad, but I refused to leave my country. I am determined to stay and work on for the cause of the 500,000 people held in the Syrian regime’s prisons.  When the revolution started, I was still in high school. I decided to participate in peaceful resistance activities with other students, like public protests.

I took part in revolutionary work hoping to cause some change in the country.- everyone in our society knew we were living under oppression. It was time for change. That is why I decided to join the struggle.  I started working at the information centre of the Syrian revolutionary command council. As the revolution evolved, the situation changed. Most of my colleagues became armed and joined the Free Syrian Army (FSA). However, I refused to do the same and remained in the media field.

With the help of my friends, I founded a network of reporters from Rif Dimashq [on Damascus outskirts] and started to organise civil defence work in opposition-ruled areas. I later joined the civil defence force on the outskirts of Damascus.

When the Syrian revolution’s civil defence workers were all united and became one team, I decided to join them. Some of my friends also joined because it aims to help the people, even though it’s often dangerous work. We have come under regime fire several times while working.

I lost one of my best friends, Bilal Abdul-Sattar. The day he was killed was a turning point in my life. He was one of the initiators of civil defence work in my city. When he was killed, I vowed to continue serving the revolution until the last moment of my life.

Despite the fact that most of my friends have left Syria, I am determined to stay here because I often wonder: If all of the youth in Syria fled the country, who would stay to rebuild it?Before the eruption of the Syrian revolution, I was studying at Rizk Salloum high school. When the Syrian regime forces raided the Bab al-Sbaa neighbourhood, I fled to safer areas in the city of Homs, fearing that the regime would find and arrest me.

At that time, the Syrian army was carrying out indiscriminate arrest operations in the area.  Since the revolution broke out, I took part in peaceful protests in the old districts of Homs. I held my camera and challenged the Assad regime by filming protests and arrest operations in conflict areas, including the al-Khalidiya and al-Qusoor neighbourhoods.

I then started to work with Arab and Western media organisations and newspapers. I wanted to reflect the true image of what was going on and convey the message of the Syrians, who were calling for freedom of their people, and to contest the false information reported by the regime’s media which described the revolutionists as infiltrators.

I received several threats telling me to stop my work, but I didn’t take the threats seriously.  Once in 2011, the regime forces raided Bab al-Sbaa without warning. I was there. I was terrified, believing they would find and arrest me. I decided to leave the neighbourhood and use back alleys to get to another neighbourhood.

The soldiers saw me and started to shoot at me. But I didn’t get hurt. That was the turning point in my life: I knew then that we should never refrain from our demands for freedom. We will never relinquish our goal to topple the regime.

I never think about leaving Syria. I strongly believe that a homeland is not a hotel for us to leave when the service is no longer good!Right after I registered at university, I witnessed the injustice practised by the regime against almost all Syrian students in general, and against me in particular. Most of the students who were given the right to continue their postgraduate studies were sons and daughters of army officers, government officials or prominent businessmen.

I was arrested four times during my university years; twice in 2003 during protests against the Iraq War, again in 2005 and then in 2006. One time, I was held for 72 days, accused of hostility to the Baath Party.  I have lived through all of the Syrian revolution phases. I took part in peaceful protests.

At the beginning, I decided to protest in retaliation against the injustice and sense of oppression that has built up inside of me for 10 years before the revolution started. My siblings and friends tried to prevent me from joining the revolution. But I had only two options: To join the revolution or feel defeated for the rest of my life. I decided to take part in the revolution by secretly filming footage of the events and organising peaceful protests.

I had lost my left hand in a car accident few years before the revolution. I could not carry up arms and fight on the front line because of my amputation, but I couldn’t just stand by idly. So I helped by transporting ammunition and weapons from one place to another. I also transported medicines and blood bags, particularly the universal type O negative, from the Jaramana neighbourhood in Damascus to Eastern Ghouta towns.

I then started secret civil filming, then military filming. Then I insisted on joining the revolutionists in fighting the regime.  I moved into the internal security field and later established the Revolutionary Education Centre along with some of my friends, which overlooks all the academic institutions that are operating in the besieged Ghouta area, looking into teacher and student affairs and ensuring the smooth daily operations of all the schools.

I’ve been focusing solely on this for the past two years.    Before the revolution, I had always dreamed of travelling abroad, but when the people decided to revolt, I chose to remain in Syria.  We must make sacrifices in order to put an end to the oppression. No matter how long it takes, we will gain freedom and victory one day. But we need to maintain our determination until we reach that victory.

I dropped out of school four years before the Syrian revolution started. My mother had died of a stroke and I needed to work to financially support the family. I started working as a blacksmith. When the revolution started, I was against it at the beginning, preferring to live in a safe homeland away from war and conflict.

I had opposed the revolution completely. Every time people protested, I would advise them not to do so. I didn’t want us to end up living in a country like Egypt or Libya. But later on, I changed my viewpoints when I saw how the regime forces oppressed the protesters and fired live bullets and tear gas at them.

I knew that that the revolution wouldn’t simply be over within a short time, especially after a number of innocent protesters were killed in my town solely for being found guilty for demanding freedom.  Despite my support for the revolution, I have never engaged in revolutionary activities. I chose to support it silently because I was the only breadwinner in the family along with my father. Still, I always encouraged my friends to fight the regime and to never give up.

I then helped the rebels by repairing their weapons for free. Eastern Ghouta has been suffering constant power cuts because of the siege imposed on the area by the regime for almost three years. I came up with an idea to generate electricity.

I was once walking with my friends, and we passed near a field with a waterwheel. It gave me the idea of trying to generate electricity from water by using handmade waterwheels. It was just a passing thought at the beginning. I believed that the idea couldn’t be applied because the project was too expensive. When I told my friends about it, they encouraged me to develop the idea.

I believe the day this idea was born was the turning point of my life during the revolution. I started to feel as an active player, especially now as many people suffering from the frequent electricity shortages ask for my help in designing and building waterwheels near their houses.

Despite having many of my friends leave the country, I could never afford to leave. I never thought about travelling; I am in love with my simple town. I love my simple home, my small room, my bed and fireplace. None of the world’s big cities could allure me leave the Eastern Ghouta.


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