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Sammy Sawaf
Dubai, UAE

I'm proud to be Syrian American.

People have different reactions when I say that I’m Syrian. Some people think negative things—actually a lot of people think negative things. Most people think that they know enough about the issue when they don’t. People think it’s the same as Iraq or Afghanistan, but they don’t know the scale of the tragedy where there are half a million reported deaths, but in reality, it could be upwards to a million. The ignorance of the West has made the situation so much worse. The world has become comfortable with simplifying the issue. They have been generalizing the disaster and disregarding the situation as if they have nothing to do with it.

I lived in Syria for four years. People say it’s the oldest living civilization. It’s so rich in history. I have millions of beautiful memories from living there. I used to climb mountains with my cousins, play with fireworks for celebrations, play basketball with the local kids, and eat falafels like you’ve never tasted before. It’s where all my aunts, cousins, grandparents from both sides lived, and some still live. I moved to Dubai when I was 7 years old. I looked forward to going back to Syria every summer and winter each year until I was 17 and the revolution began. Growing up, it was my home.

The biggest tragedy is that most of the people who are dying are the people who had nothing to do with the situation. They’re not military people; they’re doctors, they’re engineers, they’re civilians. Nowadays, there are no doctors left because most have been kidnapped and tortured. Hospitals are intentionally bombed by the Syrian government under Assad. In Aleppo, the biggest city in Syria, there are roughly only 30 doctors left. And the biggest misconception is that people think Syria has always been dangerous, so it’s supposed to be this way.  Before there were no guns, gangs, or violence. There was peace. But then, the revolution began and people started disappearing when they spoke against the government, that’s really when the violence started. All anyone wanted was freedom and democracy -- a very simple request in this modern day and age. They didn’t expect to be treated so ruthlessly. People thought that the fighting would be short lived. No one thought that the fighting would continue until the Syrian government, and their allies, would wipe out the biggest cities without the world doing anything.

As millennials, I don’t want to say that it’s too late to solve the problem because I know that we can focus on the after effects. We can donate to the Syrian Medical Society and the IRC. The biggest things we can do are donate and educate ourselves. There’s a huge education crisis, millions of Syrian children and young adults are out of school, so join organizations such as USC SOS where you can tutor Syrian refugees on Skype.

Being Syrian has shaped how I think about my future and what I want to do later in life. I’m so fortunate to have an American education, a roof over my head, and a family that can support me, especially when I know that I could have easily been a refugee. My desire for success has been fueled by what’s happening over there. I have a responsibility to try my hardest and become as resourceful as I can, so I can give back by helping and rallying other people to do the same.