The humanitarian crisis in Syria has entered its fifth year of being recognized in America. Some still living there with no way to escape the warring between Assad and ISIS have lost hope of a bright future. The vigil that took place in support of those people on Nov. 15 was Roger Williams University’s way of reigniting their drive to push on in the face of adversity.
The vigil was one of the pieces to a three-part event on Tuesday, with a panel on the refugees who have made it out of Syria into Europe preceding it, and a screening of the new Netflix documentary The White Helmets taking place afterward. It was a moving event for student who were able to see representatives from different communities coming together on campus, including Roger for Refugees, Future Teachers of America, and Hillel. The vigil began with a prayer from Reverend Nancy Soukup.
“There are people fleeing bullets, fleeing shells from overhead, fleeing yet another enemy, trying to cross at an unwelcome border. They are homeless, stateless, death-defying existence, mind-and-heart-numbing fear disrupted lives and disrupted hope… O, holy one, bring your people out of exile. Restore their homes, restore their livelihoods, relieve their tears and restore them to hope, and bring to this land, peace,” Soukup said during the night’s events.
This event, orchestrated by Professor Alan Canestrari’s CORE 103 course, exceeded the expectations of attendance; totaling out to around 40 people. In attendance was Elsa Wiehe, another organizer for the vigil and Professor of Education at RWU, who stated that she was very grateful for the gathering. Her husband is Syrian, and she knew of the power her friends and family felt from knowing about these kinds of gatherings.
“It’s very meaningful for Syrians to see such gatherings because they have been totally abandoned by the international community, who has left a sort of political ‘status quo’ in Syria, and it’s very meaningful to know that people are gathering in support and thinking of ways to support them,” Wiehe said.
Also in attendance was Anas Abouyahya, an international student from Saudi Arabia that spoke about his experiences vacationing in the areas.
“[Syria] was a country where you could enjoy beautiful weather all year long. In the summer I could just walk in the street and enjoy the sound of many people talking and laughing. I still remember how much I enjoyed buying delicious fruits from an old man in his old plastic trolley. The people of this country are peaceful and beautiful…The green trees are now dark and the beautiful flowers are dead. The old man and his old plastic trolley? I’m not sure if he’s alive or dead. The delicious fruits have all disappeared, and the few that are left have gone bad. The smiles on the faces of children, young men and old ladies are all gone and now only show sadness,” Abouyahya said.
The power of the community was breathtaking. Through this small act of charity, with just a mere hour out of people’s evenings one could almost feel the collective sorrow and contemplation. This was doubly true in the reflective silence intentionally left between the speakers. There are many ways to aid in this crisis, but perhaps the easiest is to share information on social media and get educated on the issue.
President Farish is hosting a panel over the immigration issue on Nov. 21 and Roger for Refugees can, as always, be contacted via their Facebook page.