Create Syria: Abed’s story

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Abed is one of the artists exhibiting at our Create Syria multimedia installation from 21 September – 22 October. Find out more here

“I have a principle in life that I can learn from everything I do, especially from working with children, I love working with children, they are very creative, they have a lot of imagination, and art is imagination.”

Life has not been easy for Abed, who grew up in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus and was arrested for the first time at the age of just 13 for participating in a demonstration: “I know the nature of the regime well, I know how it goes.”

These days, however, he often turns to art to express his lifelong struggle for justice. It began with writing. Abed worked as a journalist in Damascus, only to be harassed by the regime because of his opinions. By 1986 he had to leave, and came to Lebanon where he reported on the civil war. Still not safe (the Syrian intelligence networks were carrying out assassinations even across the border), Abed sought asylum in Germany in 1990 with the help of Amnesty International.

Despite the distance, Abed’s passion for his country and its people was still rooted deep within him. “When the incidents happened in Syria, I was involved because I was a political activist,” he says.

And it wasn’t long before he was back in the region. In 2011, Abed joined a group of well-known intellectuals and artists to issue the ‘milk statement’, demanding milk to feed the children of Deraa when it was under siege, and then forming a group to illegally smuggle it into the besieged town.

In Syria, such actions can have severe consequences, so Abed felt it was time to reconsider things. “I said to myself, maybe I shouldn’t be involved all the time in politics and taking a stand, maybe it’s better to establish an institution and help people.”

Enter Najda Now – an institute that has been carrying out vital relief work in areas under siege in Syria since the uprising began in 2011. They have training centres in refugee camps in Lebanon that provide psychosocial support and workshops for young people in areas such as computing and film-making, and these have enabled Abed to combine his artistic hobbies with work.

And he says it’s this desire to help the younger generation which compelled him to apply join the Create Syria project.

“I applied because I want to support young people, between the ages of 15 and 25. They are really marginalised in this society, so I want to give them the means to reintegrate into life, enable them to continue their lives in a meaningful way.”

Abed’s idea for the project is simple: ‘The Camp and the Stories of its Inhabitants’ – a film dedicated to archiving oral memories and aiming to shed light on the suffering. Twelve young people will receive training on how to shoot films and edit videos professionally, enabling them to produce a short film.

“We are seeing phenomenon’s that we wouldn’t see otherwise, outside this context of war. Because when you are suffering a lot you tend to be creative,” Abed explains.

Syrian children have already lost years of education and have little or no training in art or photography, but the raw talent is there. Najda Now recently held interviews to find their Create Syria project participants. “What do you do? What is your talent?” one young boy was asked. “I write stories,” he replies. He was given a day to return with one, but he came back two hours later and recited a tragic yet beautiful tale.

A young boy finds himself in the midst of conflict – surrounded by shelling and bombing, people are wounded and there are lots of ambulances. An old man who has lost a hand staggers around. The young boy has suffered the same injury. When the old man starts to look for his hand among the rubble, he finds the little boy’s hand, and tries to fix it to his arm. Meanwhile, the little boy searches for his hand and finds the old man’s. It fits. “I grew up. I grew up,” he says.

For Abed, “art is a process of dismantling society and putting it back together again”. Its value in times of crisis is clear, helping people rebuild shattered lives. Abed has plans to do precisely this, and his tireless, creative energy is remarkable in the face of so much hardship: “Without hope we cannot continue. We need to remain resilient now, so that we have something to build on in the future.”