Samy Harmoush is the National Project Manager for the Syrian American Council, coordinating and advising Syrian-American volunteers across the U.S. He’s a graduate of Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter @SamyHarmoush
Hamza lives in the northwest farmland. At 14 years of age, he’s a lover, not a fighter.
His world is his family, the Los Angeles Lakers and FC Barcelona and his best friends Yusuf and Ali. His parents want him to be a doctor. His friends, on the other hand, tell him to keep his bags packed for Barcelona (in the neighborhood he’s known as little Messi – no one can score a soccer goal the way he can.)
Unbeknownst to them all, Hamza wants to one day be the president of Syria. He keeps his lofty dreams a secret to protect his friends and family. For decades, the walls have eyes. Informants tied to the local intelligence bureau have been everywhere and Assad, they say, is watching.
After 40 years, the Syrian people have joined to overthrow the Assad family’s rule. So far, 60,000 civilians have died in the conflict. But many civilians in Syria are hopeful that the future in which a Syrian child can openly hope to become the president is near.
Solidarity among civilians has been an enduring thread over the past two years, including widespread connection, via Internet tools like Facebook and Twitter, to document the conflict unfurling before them. When the regime withdrew services, civilians created volunteer-run local transitional councils to manage the city’s needs.
Filling “temporary” posts, self-governance is taking place at the local level in distributing aid – even collecting garbage. Together they are eyeing a democracy in which Hamza might someday have the chance to clinch a popular national election.
But last Saturday afternoon, a teenage presidential hopeful was lost.
Hamza, who played like Messi, had been sent by his mother to wait in line at the bakery . Watching him pull his father’s coat over his own (it was freezing), she could see the handsome man she was sure he would grow up to be.
With a kiss on his still-chubby cheeks, she walked Hamza to the road and told him to come directly home after buying bread, the family’s only meal of the day.
A few hours later, she heard a government airstrike. Her heart froze as she rushed to call for her son.
It was too late. Hamza would never make it home.
Under the walls of the bakery lay the corpses of Hamza and the others who were killed while waiting in line. His mother will have to rely on the charity of her community for her survival.
America copes with the trauma of shootings in Aurora and Newtown. Likewise, Hamza’s bread is this nation’s to break.