Syrian refugees Fayez and Souha and Lebanese teenager Anthony tell SAT-7 how friendships have overcome prejudice and made a world of difference in their lives.
“When we first met, we had a fight, but what matters now is that we became buddies and best friends.”
Teenagers Fayez Farah (16) and Anthony Ghanem (15), from Syria and Lebanon respectively, both participated in SAT-7’s Lebanon Our Story project and told their stories on film. The various strands of the project bring together young people from different religious, racial and social backgrounds to create a new narrative of social cohesion and change in Lebanon’s divided society.
The experiences of Anthony and Fayez and of over 30 other young participants represent a microcosm of the stories of refugees and host communities in Lebanon, when people come to see beyond their differences. As the United Nations marks World Refugee Day (20 June) and, at a time when people fleeing war and persecution face new restrictions in Lebanon and elsewhere, it is encouraging to hear their positive experiences.
Anthony admits that he called Fayez names when he first met him. “He was a stranger and people used to say that Syrians are bad,” he explains. And Fayez didn’t take the insults lying down but responded with his own before they came to blows.
As Anthony got to know Fayez, though, they became friends. That “taught me plenty,” Anthony says. “It taught me not to judge people on first sight and not to listen to others. Secondly, it filled a huge gap in my life. Now I have a friend to share all my stories.”
When Fayez left Syria with his family, he says living in a war zone had left him “paralysed with fear”. But making friends with Anthony and other teenagers has made him feel “totally safe”.
Sylva, Antony’s mother, expressed feelings that echo this year’s World Refugee Day message of “Hope away from Home: a world where refugees are always included”1. She says, “We should love Fayez and his parents and welcome them amongst us and make them feel at home because they’ll live amongst us and be close friends and relatives.”
Aida, Fayez’s mother said that she “met lots of good people in Lebanon”, but “there is something implanted in their hearts against the country we come from.” However, the resentments borne of historic conflicts and tensions can be overcome, she says: “Eventually, when they saw how we treat them, they realised we’re good people.”
Scarred by tragedy
Eighteen-year-old Souha al-Louas also fled Syria, in her case with her widowed mother. But they left only after the horror of Souha’s sister being killed. “I came out of the house and say my sister, motionless,” she remembers. “I didn’t know if she was dead or alive and I couldn’t get any closer.”
“I never thought I’d survive [the war] and come to Lebanon,” Fasila, Souha’s mother says.
After having had a comfortable life before the war, with many friends in Syria, Souha found herself alone in Lebanon, without friends or relatives and living in an informal refugee camp.
So Souha decided to go to a church. “That’s where everything changed,” she says.
Daniel Toufik Qazan, one of the church members who has befriended her, says churches should be places where refugees can feel safe. It’s important to counter prejudice, he says. “We should not have preconceived ideas. We should accept them and listen to their story. When we heard Souha’s story, it affected us deeply.”
In fragile societies like Lebanon which have known bitter war themselves, Daniel says, “We might have been in their shoes. We ought to do to others what we want others to do to us. We should love everyone equally as God taught us to love him.”
Through the church, Souha found a strong friendship with another younger member, Remi Qazan. “When we met, it totally changed my life,” Souha says. “Thanks to this friendship we got to know our different cultures, our different communities.”
“I’m still living in a tent. It’s a hard life and I really struggle. But this love and support I received; to have someone listen to my struggles, it makes me feel safe. It makes me feel I belong here.”
Learn more about the Lebanon Our Story project and download the book of young people’s stories