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Randa discussing her book for children at the graduation ceremony for students at the JRS Social Education Centre in Baalbek, Lebanon. (Kristóf Hölvényi/JRS MENA)

Baalbek, 24 April 2017 - Randa is a courageous woman that has braved all odds. Over the years, she has seen and experienced hunger and deprivation, bombardments and suffering, destruction and death. Randa, however, is not one to be defeated. She has an indomitable spirit. 

Today, this Syrian refugee, from her new home in Baalbek, Lebanon wants the children of the world to hear her story. Her story written in Arabic is poignant and is illustrated with her own paintings. At her book launch at the JRS Social Education Centre in Baalbek on April 11th 2017, Randa was all smiles, “Today is the happiest day of my life”, she exclaimed.

The book launch was part of a Graduation Ceremony where 53 women were awarded certificates for successfully completing a course conducted by JRS, in English, computer literacy, or in cosmetology. Most of the graduates were Syrian refugees but some were from the local Lebanese community, which is a significant intervention to promote a more inclusive society. Some of the graduates spoke about the impact the course has had on their lives, the belonging they have experienced in the JRS Centre, and the overall transformation they experienced.

Randa shared with the audience the compelling reasons that prompted her to write the story. Arragheef Alyabes, meaning The Dry Bread, reads like a fairy tale. In reality, it is the story of the suffering and deprivation that she and her family, as well as many other Syrians, have gone through. Sometime after writing it, she first read out the story to her two little sons, Akram and Hamza, twelve and six years old respectively, and they loved it. 

In writing a story ‘for children’, Randa would like children to be aware about the pangs of hunger, of what it means to be a displaced person, desperately fleeing to a place of safety but often, with nowhere to go.  She hopes that her story will inspire many children: to help them realise that food is a basic right for all and they must ask for it, to help them care for and to share with others, to welcome and to accept a stranger. This ‘children’s story’ has a message that needs to be read by all.

As she speaks about her story, several painful memories overwhelm her: the death of her younger sister in childbirth; of how her nieces and nephews had to survive on ‘cat’s meat’; of how hunger can destroy the spirit of almost anyone. 

“For a hungry person,” she says, “even ‘dry bread’ means survival, it means hope, and it can give new life”. For Randa, having something to eat is a basic right for every human being and war deprives people of this right.

Randa is also an accomplished artist. She has illustrated her story with more than a dozen paintings in vibrant colours. The pictures vividly capture the mood and the flow of her story. She happily points out to some of her other drawings and paintings that decorate the JRS Social Centre. Randa also created a special gift for JRS: a beautifully painted ceramic plate and a bag, as an expression of gratitude.

For more than a year now, Randa has been associated with JRS. She is very grateful for the meaning and identity JRS has given her. She is happy because she has successfully completed both the computer and English courses. She could do this in large part because her sons receive the needed attention and academic coaching provided by JRS. 

For Randa, life has been one long and difficult journey from Al – Zabadani in Syria. Nada El Myr, the Project Director of JRS Baalbek, echoes the sentiments of many, “Randa, symbolizes for all of us, strength and hope. She is a great example of a woman who achieves her goals, despite much difficulty and suffering. Someone who is helping make this world a better place.”

- Fr Cedric Prakash SJ