Hala Al Hamida stands in a courtyard
Photos provided by Hala Al Hamidia

Portrait of Hala Al Hamida

I am 24 years old and have lived in Syria all my life. Since the war began, I have learned to adjust to a new normal. Before I leave for work in the morning, I call my friends in the Syrian Orthodox Church where I work to make sure that the neighbourhood around the church is quiet — no bombings or signs of unrest.

I used to enjoy walking near the church. There is a hidden mystery in its beautiful, historic streets and buildings. The sweet scent of jasmine made me smile. Now the area is marked by war. One day in June when I was at the office, 27 mortars exploded near the church.

When I want to go out, I pray. Everything that I do, I pray about.

If you go outside, you may not come back. Maybe you are walking down the street and something hits you and you will die. Staying home is not necessarily safer because a family sitting inside the house could be hit by a rocket.

“If you go outside, you may not come back.”

Getting to work now can take two hours because the bus has to go through so many checkpoints and all the passengers must show their IDs. It used to take 30 minutes or less.

At the church, I write funding proposals to organizations like MCC on behalf of the bishops because of my English skills. We need funds for as many people as possible. I also help distribute MCC-supported monthly cash allowances to the most vulnerable people living in the community around the church, Christian and Muslim.

A lot of people come to the church asking for help with medicine and with rent. Rent has become so high even people with jobs cannot always afford to pay for housing. Some people have lost their jobs or have lost a family member. Some people still have government jobs, but most people just do whatever work they can find.

I also help with summer activities for children at the church two days a week. We do activities like painting, playing games and acting out Bible stories. We are supporting the children by giving them freedom, letting them be happy for awhile.

If I go out at night to have dinner with friends, everything is so expensive. Even when I am with my friends, I hear the sound of violence in the distance, or I remember friends who aren’t with us anymore because they have been killed or have moved out of Syria.

I went to an MCC trauma workshop in Beirut and went to Harrisonburg, Va., to attend the Summer Peacebuilding Institute, but I always came back to Syria because my family and my friends at church are very supportive and because I believe that I am doing a valuable job here. A lot of people are dying and suffering, but it will end at some point.

Hala Al Hamidia lives in Damascus, Syria’s capital city, and works for the Syrian Orthodox Church, which MCC partners with to distribute cash vouchers and provide other assistance. Summer Peacebuilding Institute is a program of Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va.