Angella and her children, Christian and Carl, sit in their current home in Bourj Hammoud, Beirut, Lebanon. (photo: Tamara Hadi)
Bourj Hammoud, a densely populated suburb of Beirut, is home to a large Armenian community. (photo: Heather Dito)
Cardinal Timothy Dolan visits Armenian Syrian refugees at the Karagheusian Center. (photo: Michael J.L. La Civita)
The stories of those fleeing turmoil in the Middle East — first-person accounts of people from all walks of life, lay and religious — help chronicle the volatile times in which we live. How do these suddenly homeless people cope? Where can they turn? In Lebanon, one place offering care and support is the Howard Karagheusian Center — a kind of refuge CNEWA proudly supports. In this letter, a Syrian wife and mother adds her voice to this ongoing story.
My name is Angella Bourudjian. I used to live in Aleppo, Syria, with my husband and two young boys.
Before the outbreak of the war, my life was so peaceful in Aleppo. We lived in an Armenian neighborhood, where everyone knew each other and our social relations were more than perfect. We had a lovely apartment — very well furnished — and we enjoyed our family life to the maximum. My husband owned a shop for car electronics, and his income was enough to feed the family as well as to have surplus for leisure-time activities.
Weekends were special for us — hanging around, witnessing the joy of our children. We spent a lot of time at the parks, taking our children out to enjoy nature. We attended musical events that took place around the country.
In my own spare time, I used to go to ladies’ outings, and attend lectures and social events organized by Armenian organizations. I also volunteered in activities supporting the elderly and orphan children.
After the war began, all of this disappeared.
One day we realized that our neighborhood had become one of the most dangerous zones in the country. The area was subjected to siege and constant bombardment. Gunmen and military troops took control of different parts.
I really do not know how we came to the decision to leave Syria, because everything happened so quickly. There was neither time to think about it, nor any second choice. Leaving our country and our beautiful home became an imperative if we wanted to survive, and that’s exactly what we did. We left everything behind and took the path of uncertainty, of ambiguity.
As a consequence, we lost all our property, my husband lost his shop and we lost our home, and became homeless. We couldn’t find any shelter to protect our children. We had only one choice to save our lives: finding refuge in Lebanon.
The move to Lebanon was another terrifying experience. The road from Aleppo to Lebanon was controlled by unknown terrorists. We were interrogated and hunted at several stops. We were threatened with death. I lost my hope to survive. Horrifying thoughts accompanied me all through the way. I felt death was so near to us, and I could imagine seeing my children being taken away from me.
Finally, we arrived in Lebanon through the Arida border, safe and sound. I consider this a miracle granted from God, for which I thank him every single day!
Now that we are living in Lebanon, we are indeed safe. But the economic difficulties — unemployment and inflation — are hindering our normal pace.
Our life in Lebanon is very tough. Being a Syrian refugee, my husband has difficulty finding any fixed job to support our children. He works part time, making minimum wage. He tries so hard to find another job, but he is always rejected.
Our children are attending St. Agnes Armenian Catholic School in Bourj Hammoud, a neighborhood in a suburb east of Beirut. So far, the school has covered the cost of tuition and supplies for our children. However, the administration informed us that this funding would stop as of the next academic year. I am totally at a loss, and worried for the days to come; there is no way that with the little income we have, we can afford to pay anything for school.
My children face great psychological challenges. They struggle with the trauma they have experienced — from witnessing bombardments to the difficulties that are now a part of daily life. Our apartment is so small that they do not have any space to move. They do not play with games or toys. They are deprived of almost all the pastimes other children naturally enjoy.
As a mother, I always try to keep my spirits high to help my children overcome the hardships we are going through. My children are very young to experience such burdens. They know their lives have changed — they no longer enjoy family outings and there are no more parks or day trips.
Nonetheless, I spare no effort to make them feel happy. I read books for them. I play games and sing songs. I want them to live as peaceful a life as every other child enjoys. I want them to see beauty. I want them to sing, play and laugh. I want them to grow up and find meaning and positive values in life.
My only hope to assure a better future for my children is starting over in a country where we can regain our dignity and enjoy basic human rights, where my children can grow and become successful. Going back to Syria is not an option for us; the minute we pass the border, my husband might be recruited into military service.
We have applied several times for emigration to European countries, but have received no answer.
From time to time, I imagine being in a country where my children go to school without having worries. I imagine sleeping at night without thinking how to pay the rent at the end of the month or what to feed the children with the little we have. I imagine my children having a small space to run and play and move. I imagine my children going to school without worrying about huge tuition fees. I imagine my children’s health care and medications are provided without running here and there to collect money. I imagine myself having a decent job and supporting my husband. I imagine a life that citizens in developed countries already live.
My only hope for a solution lies with God, with whom I speak every day. I have delivered my problems to him, and I am sure he will find a way out for us.
In the midst of our unbearable dilemmas, we have found a refuge in the heart of Bourj Hammoud, the Howard Karagheusian Child Welfare Center. I am so grateful to the people there for taking good care of us.
We have received food and clothing with the change of seasons — especially holidays. I was able to take my children to the Palm Sunday liturgy with new clothes, and enjoy a good meal and Easter cookies during this festive period.
My eldest son, Christian, was most affected by the war. Through the center, he has been able to receive therapy, working with a team of three clinicians who oversee his recovery and psychological development.
The center’s summer school program has been a salvation for us. Through it, my children have been able to enjoy vacations again. They attend classes, participate in activities and go visit places I will never be able to take them. My eldest son is impatiently awaiting this year’s program, to rejoin his summer friends and go on trips with them.
Since 2013, I have been a member of the Karagheusian Center’s women’s empowerment group, which has helped me through my own struggles. I learn new things, I make friends, and somehow I have restored my social life. Through its vocational classes, I have also had the chance to study the trades of hairdressing and cosmetology. I could not imagine myself staying sane without the support of this center.
I am sure that God has a special plan for my family, and I will wait for his plan to work.
May the almighty God bless you all abundantly!