Hany's Story Continued - Lives Interrupted
From the Regina Leader Post - Saturday December 5, 2015
As Canada prepares to receive 25,000 Syrian refugees by March, we look at the experience of some who have already arrived in Regina. Photographer Hany al Moulia, 22, described to Austin M. Davis what drove his family out of their country, the long journey to their new home and the challenges of resettlement.
al Moulia: I had a normal life back home. I was born in a very middleclass family. I had my education and everything. I didn’t have to do any jobs. I was just studying and trying to do a lot of things. I’m into acting and writing.
Hany al Moulia — who took the main photo of his siblings walking hand in hand at sunset — is a 22-year-old Syrian refugee who came to Regina earlier this year.I was born with very low vision and it still (persists). It’s called nystagmus. Also, there’s a problem with seeing colours. Nystagmus is (involuntary) movement of my eyes so I can’t focus. At the beginning, the doctors said I couldn’t study. It was very hard in Syria to study with problems with your vision. We don’t have special treatment. Like, you study as a normal person. Any challenge I faced, I tried to act like this was normal. In school it was very hard, but most of the time I caught up after the classes. I could take my friends’ notes and then sometimes I also recorded the class. You can get the class twice. That helped me to do well in high school. I graduated in 2012 with excellent degrees, especially in scientific subjects.
As al Moulia graduates high school, his city and country are changing. At first, he believes the movement can be peaceful.
al Moulia: My hometown is Homs, a very big city. It’s located in the middle of Syria. Before the conflict, its population was around 1.5 million. It’s a very ancient city and modern city at the same time. There are lots of treasures in our city.
In the middle of 2011, the people go out to the street. I was one of them because we haven’t been happy with a lot of rules in our country, especially (having to serve) two years in the army and you need connections to get a job. We don’t want to see that anymore. It was peaceful. A peaceful revolution, if you want to call it that. Everybody goes to the street, and then when the government said, “No,” and they start to shoot people, it’s like, “Oh.” People said, “Those people are killing us.” Everything started with that.
After a few months — it was 2012 when I fled — it wasn’t a revolution anymore because some people said we are done and they fought violence with violence. I didn’t want to be there and I decided it wasn’t safe anymore, especially with all of the bombs. If the government thought there were some groups in a town that were against them, they will bomb all of the town to destroy those groups. The biggest losers were the people and those buildings that we have. It’s so hard to see your country destroyed that way.
With violence seizing Syria, al Moulia is forced to make a choice: Stay and remain in danger or leave and enter an unknown future as a refugee.
al Moulia: People’s lives are interrupted. Within an hour, they find themselves away from their fancy life, maybe they left everything behind. As a refugee — if people want to imagine how that happens — it’s something very simple: Even if you have a castle and a Lamborghini, you would throw the keys and flee because there’s no chance for you to live for that stuff. They left everything. I fled just with my diploma because I thought that it’s my future and I don’t want to keep it at home — the home that I lost — or it would be destroyed now.
I fled alone to Lebanon, but then after a month, my family followed me to the same camp. We spent three years in the same place. I don’t remember a lot of happiness, to be honest. But I remember a lot of things that bothered me. Like, time. I don’t care about time in that refugee camp because I lost everything. I lost my education and my chances and my dream. Well, I didn’t lose the dream because it’s my dream, but I did lose opportunities to achieve them. Also, the privacy. I missed my privacy. It’s a small space and everybody’s there. If you want to talk to someone, have a private conversation, everybody will notice that and they will hear you wherever you do it. So, basically, there’s no privacy. It’s an unhealthy life for any family.
Every single kid who was born in a refugee camp, they think that’s real life. They lose most of their rights as a child, like playing and education. It’s important. People like me, they’ve already completed their education and they got their own normal life before. But for those kids, they didn’t know and they think the tent or the camp is real life. This is the normal life for them and they’re raised up in those conditions.
During his three years in a Bekkah, Lebanon refugee camp, al Moulia finds inspiration for a new creative outlet, in addition to poetry and acting. He turns out to have a natural talent in photography, overcoming his visual impairment. He is considered legally blind.
al Moulia: In the camp, when I saw journalists stay for a while and take pictures and make stories, I realized I should do that. I like photography.
I started to do that and then I found a workshop with Brendan Bannon, a photojournalist from the U.S., sponsored by the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency). It was two weeks long for students to get an understanding of photography or get them to express themselves. I discovered I should do that. Brendantold me they were great pictures and that we could do an exhibit with those pictures, with just my little Fuji camera. It was very impressive to him that with this quality camera, I was producing these pictures.
He knew I had something with photography. I thought about it and I started to practise and then I start to find myself going to the manual mode all the time. When you go to the manual mode, that means you are doing well and you are hoping that you will get good pictures. I want to improve that. I started to watch a lot of reviews and articles about photography. Because I can’t see the viewfinder and I can’t see the picture I want to take, I practice myself to understand the camera for any conditions. DON HEALY/REGINA LEADER-POST Hany al Moulia, centre, with, from left, his father Mohammed and brothers Ashraf, Houssien and Ibrahim.I have been working on a project about the kids who have been born in the camp because I believe that will end someday. I want them to see this picture and see the difference when they realize it’s not their normal life.
As a teenager, al Moulia knew he wanted to attend a western postsecondary institution. He was accepted to a prestigious university in France, but that changed after the start of the Syrian civil war. His family didn’t know where they would end up after leaving the camp, but al Moulia was prepared to make a new home in Europe or North America.
al Moulia: I started learning English when I was in Grade 9. Not in school. I was self-taught. There was no English like this in Syria. I always wanted to complete my studies in the West, actually, but I wasn’t planning for Canada. Canada, it was one of the most beautiful countries I heard about. I like the nature.
Western life is very close to European life. I liked the idea that one of the main languages is English in Canada. I was happy to come here. It was a very, very good advantage to be able to speak English from the airport.
To be honest, I always wanted to be in the West. I read a lot about the culture, so now it’s very comfortable for me to deal with any person. I know how communities are organized, how the government treats people, how you can express your feelings or talk about a problem.
In Syria, people faced us with live bullets. Here in Canada, no, if you want to say something, you just go and say it. It’s a very multicultural community and that’s one of the reasons that I chose Canada — or maybe Canada chose me.
I want to explore everything around me. It will be a very good opportunity to build, to rebuild my life in this country. I’m grateful and thankful for that opportunity. I’m lucky also because I came with my family and they’re safe.
The al Moulia family — Hany, his parents and four brothers and one sister — arrived in Regina on June 2. He says his parents are still struggling with learning English, a difficult obstacle when they want to be a vibrant part of the community.
al Moulia: Without the language, you can’t get a job. That’s obvious. One year to learn English is very limited.
A lot of Canadians want to help. OK, you want to help? Find people; they need opportunities. Give them opportunities to work or even to understand the community by finding themselves. You don’t have to pay their bills, let them pay. Those people came to rebuild their life. They are just interrupted. They are not coming from the moon.
It’s something obvious that those people are skilled, very educated. They just want to learn the language, then they can integrate with the community easily. Also, the community will be happy to see people working as soon as possible.
If you want to know about people, go and ask them. Ask what they need, don’t just bring something, like, ‘I brought you a chair.’ Maybe he didn’t need a chair, he just needed an opportunity to find work or needed a friend. You can help in different ways.
al Moulia applauds the Canadian government’s decision to settle 25,000 Syrian refugees. He believes the adjusted timeline, preparing to receive 10,000 refugees by the end of the year and the other 15,000 by March, will serve everyone better.
al Moulia: The government is doing well with the timeline that they will have those people in by. At the beginning, I didn’t agree with the time, with having everyone coming by the end of the year. They said they will not all be coming until March. There are too many waiting lists for the people who are here. So, I don’t think the community is ready.
Some Canadians have been vocal about what they perceive as Syrian refugees posing a threat to national security. The Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, which French President François Hollande called an act of war by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), heightened those concerns.
al Moulia: Some people can bring violence and some people can bring peace. I’m a Syrian. You can find a Syrian who I’m afraid of. But I can also find a Canadian who I’m afraid of. The violence is just human beings’ reaction. We can’t ignore that. I can break the window and you can break the window. I can fix the window and you can fix the window. That’s it.