Reem Seifeddine was raised in a middle-class family in the village of Jusiya, located within Hama Province. She demonstrated academic excellence early, during elementary school, and was chosen as one of the Baath Vanguards to represent her school. The Vanguards were a group of students distinguished by their performance. They were selected from a number of different schools to participate in scholastic activities and academic contests, under the sponsorship of the Baath Vanguards, part of Syria’s ruling Baath Party.
“I remember the moment I was chosen to represent my school with the Vanguards,” says Reem. “I felt so pleased at my small success at the time, and I saw my parent’s eyes light up with joy, they were so proud at my having been chosen.”
Reem was the youngest of her three sisters and she repeatedly heard the invocations from relatives and acquaintances for God to bless the family with a son, before her youngest brother was born. According to the prevailing norms of the rural community in which she lived, families required sons to take care of their parents and sisters.
This affected Reem so much she began to wish she had been born a boy, and she tried hard to show her parents that they could depend on her for anything; that despite being a girl, she could do any work a boy could do.
“My father had a sweet shop,” recalls Reem, “and he had some employees who helped him out. At one point they all left the shop, and my father remained alone with no one to help him take care of it. So I convinced him that I could help him, and indeed I began working there, putting in hours during the week and proving to him that I could do the work of men.”
Reem continued to excel at school, turning in outstanding performances every year until was ready for the State exams that would allow her to receive her secondary school certificate. A few short months before the exams were set to take place, Reem’s maternal uncle asked if she could come work with him to help run his business. At the time, Reem’s family was going through some financial difficulties, as her father had grown too old to keep working and her mother was experiencing severe health problems. The family was in dire need of some extra income.
So Reem agreed to go to work for her uncle, even though her parents refused, fearing it might impact her academic future. As they predicted, Reem dropped out of school a short while after beginning her new job. Nevertheless,, she proved to be an exceptional business administrator, helping transform the business and increase its revenues, and rose to prominence among the area’s businessmen and merchants.
Reem had to bear financial responsibility for her family at a young age, and her mother’s health issues in particular racked up a lot of medical expenses. She turned down a number of offers of marriage in order to continue working to cover payments. . Though she was not the eldest among her siblings, she was always thinking about their futures, prioritizing their well-being above her own personal life and acted as their main pillar of support throughout several difficult situations and circumstances.
Reem was confident of her ability to succeed at anything she put her mind to, believing that she’d be able to prove herself as a capable woman in a society characterized by its patriarchal attitudes.
“Success isn’t just about doing well at school and attaining degrees,” says Reem. “Success is when a person masters the work she undertakes and tries to surpass those around her.”
Reem recalls the heart attack that took her father’s life. “My father’s death was a shock for everyone in the family,” says Reem. “I was with my mother and brother at the time, and my father seemed fine. And then suddenly he had a heart attack and died just like that, as I held him in my arms. My brother couldn’t bear it, and was so overcome that he had a small stroke, which left him paralyzed on one side of his body. I had to remain strong and composed for everyone in order to give strength to my mother and my sisters.
“My father was incredibly loving,” continues Reem, “and my love for helping others comes from him, while my strength and patience comes from my mother. My mother has gone through some very difficult things in her life and has been able to overcome them all.”
Reem does not regret not getting married, though sometimes she does wish for a child, longing to know the feeling of being a mother. She also doesn’t regret not finishing her studies, even though many of her friends continued on to university or to different professional institutes.
“At the time, circumstances forced me to leave school,” says Reem. “I was a distinguished student and would have loved to go on, but I don’t have any regrets, because I was able to succeed in my chosen field, to provide for my family and give them a good life they deserve.”