Dear Aleppo…

IRUSA’s Mayssoun Olabi is from Aleppo, Syria. In the aftermath of the recent attacks, she shares a reflection.

Today I woke up with a heavy heart. My usual, happy disposition was muted by images that played over in my head, and sounds that echoed off the walls of my heart. My whole body ached. And though I was deeply upset, I needed to show the world that everything was okay. I needed to show my children. I needed to show myself.

Forcing a smile on my face, I went about the morning as usual:

Wake up, kids! Brush-your-teeth-comb-your-hair-get-ready-for-school. Eat your breakfast.

I smiled as my 7-year-old daughter, Mariam, asked me why I wasn’t eating. Why I looked funny. I blamed my puffy eyes on sleepiness until she decided that a hole in her sock was far more interesting that my face. “Mommy look! My toe looks like a potato!”

I hugged my children, drove them to school, and watched them rush happily into the building. I was overcome by a warm feeling of affection towards my little sweethearts—a feeling most mothers experience while watching their children grow, day by day. I was lucky…extremely lucky. I felt a stabbing pain as I imagined what might happen to me if anything ever happened to my children. The mere thought of it drove me to tears.


In my hometown, Aleppo, this unspeakable fear had become a reality for many mothers like me. The night before, the ancient city was reduced to rubble. Airstrikes, bombs, and explosions descended on different parts of the city. TV footage showed bodies strewn about, covered in blood. Some mothers screamed in panic, trying to retrieve their children from what was once a loving home. Others cried in shock as the reality started to sink in. They had lost everything. Their homes, their friends, their children. No words can describe the horror.

Horror at the knowledge that hospitals were targeted, and that the last pediatrician in the city was killed as one hospital exploded. Horror at an image of a few locks of hair emerging from scattered rubble. Locks belonging to an unnamed child, trapped in the debris.

On days like this, it becomes difficult to believe in humanity, in justice. Why are humans inflicting such enormous pain on one another? And for what? Political gain? Power? Money? There is no way to rationalize death and destruction.
It’s difficult to go on, to return to business as usual knowing that lives have been destroyed forever. Today, I am thankful that I work for a relief organization, and that I have a way to help.

My dear Aleppo, nothing will bring back the lives you lost. But as long as I am able, I pledge myself in service to you.