Shaima’ al-Hazwani

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Peaceful Coexistence in the Diaspora,
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Interview Location: Beirut, Lebanon
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When she arrived in the city of Tripoli in Lebanon in 2010, Shaima’ al-Hazwani began her psychology studies at the Lebanese University. She did not communicate much with her fellow Lebanese students and her relationships were restricted to Syrian students who studied with her. The percentage of Syrians in her classes was high. She says she does not know why her relations remained restricted to Syrians but the reason could be that it was instinctive or a result of realities on the ground or perhaps some fear she had growing from something. Having said so, she mentions as well that some Lebanese students helped her when she needed it without any problems whatsoever, while others refused to help her just because she was Syrian. Nevertheless, things went well as she progressed in school over the years.

“I do not deny that I faced difficulties in my first year but over time, after getting used to my presence among them and having understood that we were all merely university students, the relationships became better” Shaima’ says. “I came to have Lebanese friends at the university and I still have contact with them now.”

She continues, “I was supposed to finish my studies within five years with a bachelor's and master's degree but it has taken me nine years and I still have not finished my thesis yet. I was often told that my professor was sectarian and hated Syrians because of what they had done in the past in Lebanon. I felt this when I failed a course for two consecutive years and could not graduate until the female professor supervising the article went into retirement.”

Shaima’ has been working in psychosocial support since 2014 and has participated in many social events and activities in Tripoli, and sometimes in Beirut. These activities involve Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians since she believes that civil work contributes to improving the country's situation.

“I have no objection to participation because I live in this place and I seek to improve it for people who I believe were doing the right thing for others and for society at large”, she says.

Shaima noticed a difference between Syrians in Tripoli and Beirut. “People in some areas of Tripoli are very close to the Syrians, always standing with them and helping them, while there are other areas where things do not happen like this. In Beirut, bullying happens as soon as people hear the Syrian dialect regardless of the person’s identity.” Shaima’ continues, “A person's appearance also plays a role in the matter.  If she is elegant, they may deal with her, even if her dialect happens to be Syrian, but if she is not then things would be decided on the spot. This is what I noticed myself.”

During her work with civil society organizations, Shaima’ noted that the crisis was not limited to the Syrians. The Lebanese were also living in a crisis, especially within the strata of the marginalized areas and conflict zones. Her work was focused on the conflict areas of Tripoli, especially al-Qubba, Jabal Mohsen and Tabbaneh. As such, she understood the nature of Lebanese society and the amount of suffering that its children lived through.

Shaima’ constructed a wide network of relations through university, work and volunteering. She has Syrian friends who have gone through the very same things, who studied with her and shared housing with her. She also has Lebanese friends so she did not feel lonely despite her family being in Syria.

After about 9 years of living in Lebanon and having become familiar with other cultures, religions and new customs, Shaima's personality has changed and she has become more open and welcoming to others. She has developed her abilities all by herself in the fields of communication and social work. She also learned about the arts in a professional capacity, learning about different types of theatrical work, something that was forbidden in Syria since it was not in keeping with the culture and customs of the region from where she came from.

“This type of cultural and artistic activity increases interaction and understanding between Syrians and Lebanese because it is a way of expression. They can express themselves and be understood, or we can convey certain ideas to them,” Shaima’ says.