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Getting past the 'blood' and the 'bullets'

By Oxfam
Shireen, Oxfam health promotor in Iraq, photographed in Bugali, where Oxfam is helping displaced families. Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam

Shireen nearly lost her life walking down the street in Aleppo. Now, she’s making it her mission to help others who are fleeing conflict. 

Two years ago, Shireen was walking down the street with friends in Aleppo, Syria. Their route took them past Syrian Army and Free Syrian Army checkpoints, but they were relatively carefree. It was a special day: they were wrapping up the exams that would complete their master’s degrees, and were looking forward to what would come next. But what came next derailed those plans.

In the distance, Shireen heard shouting: “They’re going to open fire! They’re going to open fire!” Some people around her took cover; others began to run. In the middle of the chaos, her friend Shirian was shot and killed. As Shireen turned to run, a bullet struck her in the chest. She remembers thinking: “That’s it, I’m dying.

Days later, she opened her eyes in a foreign place. She had been rescued by the International Committee of the Red Cross and was in a hospital in Turkey. “I never imagined that I would leave my country like that,” she says. “I am from a good family. We had a very nice house. We never needed anyone’s support.” After months in hospital, Shireen defied the odds and made a full recovery from her injuries. 

Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam

She was determined to help others who found themselves living through the same nightmare. Shireen travelled to Iraq, where she got a job as a public health promoter with Oxfam, supporting people who lost everything fleeing conflict in central and northern parts of the country.

“I escaped from violence,” she says. “Now I don’t see the blood or the bullets, but I see the people who have fled from that. I sit with people and they are like me. So we have something we can share. It means a lot. And it means a lot to people when you give your time to help them.”

Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam

Shireen’s family is now scattered around the world. Her parents are still in Syria, but they were forced to leave their home when ISIS came. Her sister is studying to be a mechanical engineer in Damascus and her brothers are refugees in Europe. Shireen worries about their safety, and misses them too. She speaks to her mother as often as possible. “She asks me: ‘How do you sleep? What do you wear? How is it?’ She wants so many details. Sometimes she tells me: ‘We miss drinking coffee with you in the mornings’.”

When Shireen first came to Iraq, she says, “I felt as though there was a gap in my heart.” The new friends she made working for Oxfam have helped and through her job, she often meets new people. She’s comforted by her belief in the importance of her work. In the daytime, she’s very busy – giving families the information they need to stay healthy in refugee camps and helping to bring clean, safe water to the people who need it most. In the evenings, she cooks with friends, swims, reads, talks to her family on Facebook, and plays guitar the way her brother taught her. 

Shireen never stops thinking about her home. Despite everything she’s been through, she is certain that one day she will go back. She says, “When I think about that day, I remember the place that I will put the pictures I paint. I imagine that my home will be calm and warm. And my mum will cook for me.” 


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