What happens in a country so violent, unstable and repressive that even hardened war correspondents leave?
That’s the situation Syrian journalist Zaina Erhaim faced when she returned to Aleppo two years ago. Erhaim, 30, who spoke with The 19 Million Project via Skype this week, is now one of the only professional journalists working regularly in Syria.
With so few journalists documenting the daily horrors of life in a war zone, Erhaim decided to multiply herself. She began teaching dozens of citizens in Syria basic journalism skills as the Syria project coordinator for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).
The result is Damascus Bureau, a site documenting daily life in Syria written by citizen journalists. “These are the stories from civilians. The people, women and kids are the most important and they are not covered internationally,” says Erhaim, who studied in the UK and worked as a broadcast journalist for the BBC before returning to Syria. “The media is only interested in stories about ISIS.”
Many of the pieces on the site are written by Syrian women about their everyday experiences in the shadow of the war. The brutal violence documented in these stories is key to understanding the massive wave of migration from Syria, as citizens flee. “Whatever risks they are taking to get there are nothing compared to the daily horror they are facing” in Syria, Erhaim says. The first wave of migration was to neighboring countries, like Lebanon and Jordan, but Syrians often can’t register their children there, or send them to school.
“Given all of this, the only option is to get into Europe,” she said, “They have the hope of getting a life with dignity in Europe.”
Below are some examples of the pieces written by the women bloggers Erhaim has trained on the Damascus Bureau.
For a mother, separation from her son is a bitter experience. Many Syrian women have suffered this since the beginning of the revolution, and I am one of them. I was separated from my eldest son Khalid when he was only 19.
In late 2013, Damascus’s Eastern Ghouta area was under threat of total siege by Syrian government forces. My fiancé had deserted from the army and fled to Eastern Ghouta, so I decided it was time for me to join him.
The day I enrolled at university was a dream come true. It was the beginning of a new phase of my life, and the prospect of meeting new friends and having new experiences excited me.
Photo Damascus Bureau