Thousands of miles away from our home cities, six strong ladies, were united by the one and only institutional force – SciencesPo. University, in Menton, France. Elise Manchester, Aurelie Mattmüller, Johanna Schaefer-Kehnert, Madeleine Canavesio, Anna Fechtor, and I allowed fate to bring us together. Having met each other for a few months, our common craving was that we wanted to be active world citizens, even in the small town.
By Dana Jabri
As identified millennials, we have the capacity to be connected to all corners of the world, thanks to social media. Thereby, it is our responsibility to use it to the best of our capability, in ways to raise awareness about crises and good causes. And of course, that is something that St. Vincent DePaul taught me. After all, it was St. Vincent DePaul who walked through the very same Parisian cobblestone streets, when he too raised money by developing a periodical newspaper called “Le magasin charitable” to support the Daughter of Charity’s projects. I wanted to raise awareness about the ongoing Syrian crisis. And to remind myself, the university community, and people all over the world; that there are doctors, nurses, and other people risking their lives in order to save the lives of others.
As a Syrian American, I have been volunteering for the past three years with a well-respected and recognized American national 501(c)(3), the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) that represents the Syrian American Diaspora community. It was established in 1998 to provide networking, educational, cultural, and professional services to its members. However, in 2007, the SAMS Foundation was founded to serve as the charitable and medical relief arm of SAMS. The mission of SAMS Foundation is to “save lives, alleviate suffering, and ensure a healthier future for those in need.” When the Syrian crisis began SAMS decided to respond to the new unfortunate demand, healing the wounded that were attacked in the crisis — in their home country, Syria.
In this way, SAMS has identified that there has been very little response from international relief organizations like the Red Cross, Red Crescent, and others. As a result, tens of thousands of Syrian civilians have died unnecessarily; not directly from injuries caused by violence, but from shortage of food, medical supplies, and blood products. SAMS Foundation has assessed the necessity to respond to the Syrian crisis, and thus far have established: 25 field hospitals, 28 advanced medical points, supported 14 referral hospitals, 65 trauma facilities, 17 free dental clinics, a psychosocial center, intensive care unit programs, primary care service programs, dialysis programs, provided healthcare professional salaries, and medical supplies and medication.
In February of 2012, SAMS Foundation launched their “Save Syrian Lives” campaign, which is a program,
that encompasses medical relief activities directed to help Syrian patients, healthcare workers, administrators and hospitals to deal with the multifaceted ramifications of the Syrian crisis and provide life-saving measures to all affected areas in Syria. The “Save Syrian Lives” campaign supports the treatment of patients injured or maimed directly by the violence, bombing, shelling, sniper attacks and chemical weapon attacks.
Their latest and first of a kind fundraiser, “Save Syrian Lives,” was created to get the Chicago community to participate in the 7th annual Hot Chocolate 15k/5k Race, held on Sunday, November 9th. They used Crowdrise to inform others about their cause, and to collect funds. I had been placed on the planning committee of this fundraising project back in early April, forgetting that I would be abroad on race day. While at SciencesPo, I researched for race events that would be hosted near the South of France. I found the Marathon Des Alpes-Maritimes, Nice-Cannes — and it happened to be on the same day, Sunday, November 9th, 2014. Knowing that it was the second week of October when I decided to pursue this race, I knew it was impossible for me to have enough time to train to run the complete marathon on my own. But, there was another option, running it as a relay — a team of six.
Feeling a bit of “activist absence” on campus in Menton, I asked the SciencesPo. students if anyone wanted to join my team. Without hesitation, there was large student interest. I chose the first five responders on Facebook. I was grateful to be joined by Aurelie Mattmüller, Johanna Schaefer-Kehnert, Madeleine Canavesio, Elise Manchester, and Anna Fechtor as my race companions and fundraisers. Our team motto became, “We Run. We Raise $. We Save Syrian Lives.” We ran with a purpose, to be connected with the spirits of the wounded and their healers.
We had less than three weeks to register ourselves for the race, create our Crowdrise page, to practice our running (relay goal was to finish the 42.2km in under 4hr), and to reach our goal of raising $500 to save Syrian lives. This is where it all began. We believed in the cause and as a team we pulled through strong. We emailed, wrote letters, and posted all over social media to encourage our family and friends to support our run and our cause. The love and support that came from our families and friends even while abroad sparked tears in all of us. None of us had ever asked for support from our loved ones when abroad — not for a cause like this at least, and not for money in this way either.
Finally, a night before race day, Anna Fechtor asked, “Let’s have a moment of silence for all of those who lost their lives while they were saving the lives of others during the Syrian crisis,” of the team and the SciencesPo. community who gathered at the Pre-Race Carb Pot-luck Dinner on Saturday night. After this beautiful moment, I had the honor to announce that our team had exceeded our first goal of raising $500 by race day — collecting a total of $1,407.
After 3 hours, 52 minutes, and 30 seconds, on Sunday November 9th, the six of us, team SciencesPo. Menton Save Syrian Lives completed the 2014 Marathon Des Alpes-Maritimes Relais, in Cannes, France. In reflection of the day, Anna said, “it came on race day, after our money was raised, when the act of running with a team, passing the belt, and finishing together came to symbolize the kind of unity and commitment that has the power to lift people, spread awareness, crises like the one we see in and around Syria today.” On the other hand, Aurelie expressed, “I used to believe that running a Marathon is one of the most useless human activities, and that it definitely doesn’t ‘save lives’. Yet the marathon for me, became a metaphor, a symbol for fighting for a cause that we know we have little impact on, despite our weakness and incapability, just for the sake of being human.”
The wounded need to be healed, and it is through the work of the Syrian American Medical Society, that lives are being saved, doctors are being educated, and hope is being revived. We must remember the people fighting for Freedom in Syria and those fighting to overcome a struggle all over the world.
As a DePaulian, I am proud to say that my urban campus community has taught me well to remember to hold onto my service identity no matter where I am. As a Chicagoan, I am proud to say that I have inspired others, strangers, people I have never met before to step up to their potential. As a Syrian, I am proud that I have not let my people down back home and can say that I continue to fight along them. As a SciencesPoian, I have been more than empowered by my experiences thus far.