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Laila shows her artwork highlighting the works of JRS in Baalbek, Lebanon. (Cedric Prakash SJ/Jesuit Refugee Service).
Beirut, 21 December 2016 - Al- Zabadani is a beautiful and popular hill town in South western Syria not far from the Lebanon border. For almost five years now it has been a battleground between rebels and the Syrian Army. This picturesque town now stands ravaged - with several of its inhabitants seeking refuge in other safer zones in Syria or in another country.

Lailawas born in Al-Zabadani. As a young girl she nurtured dreams of doing something constructive and positive in life. She was fortunate to have studied in the Damascus University and she specialised in ‘economics and finance’. Her passions in life, however, were painting, drawing, and creative writing. Whenever she had an opportunity she drew sketches on scraps of paper. Her one desire was to receive some formal training in art or writing. Unfortunately, that never materialized.

With marriage and the birth of two children, Amir and Mahdi, Akram and Hamza, her passions took a back-seat. She promised herself that she would return to them one day. But the outbreak of the war changed that desire dramatically. For several years, she and her family were on the move - desperately seeking places where they could be safe and secure. In June 2015, she sought refuge in Madaya; here, she faced starvation and her little son fell seriously ill. She left Madaya and went to live in Serghaya (the native place of her husband). They faced difficulties there, too.

Finally, sometime in May 2016, together with her husband and two children they arrived in Baalbek, an historic town in Lebanon, as refugees to begin a new chapter in their lives. Adjusting and feeling secure in a foreign land was definitely not easy. In order to make ends meet, her husband has to find odd jobs as a casual labourer on building construction sites.

Laila was introduced to the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), a little after she arrived in Baalbek. Ever since, she says, there has been a qualitative change in her life and the life of her family. JRS has become like a second home to her.  Amir, 12 years old, and Mahdi,  6 years old, enjoy coming to the JRS school and mingling with other children. The programmes run at the JRS Baalbek Social Centre seem to have given a new meaning to her life. Currently, Laila is doing a course on Computer training. She highly praises her instructor and is really happy of how much she has learnt in a short span of time.

One day Laila took the JRS staff by surprise: she brought with her three drawings highlighting the works of JRS. All she used was a pencil. Her art work on drawing paper was a beautiful expression of gratitude. She was able to portray very intricate details of how JRS has been responding to the refugees. Her work is sheer magic and truly a labour of love.

Laila is now on a big project. She is currently writing a book for children. Entitled in Arabic “Alragheef Alyabes” (“The Dry Bread”), it is the story of the suffering and deprivation that she and her family went through, and which many others in Syria are going through. She wants little children to know something about the pangs of hunger, of what it means to be a displaced person with nowhere to go. She is hoping that her story may motivate children to share with others, to care for one another, to welcome and to accept a stranger. Her passion for art has also inspired her to draw the illustrations for this book.

Syria today is a war-torn land. Laila comes as a beacon of hope: for her, there is no turning back, because her passion for art is in her heart.

- Cedric Prakash SJ, Advocacy and Communications officer for JRS Middle East