“Who do you think you are? Mother Teresa?” shouted a security investigator in the Syrian security branch, al-Khatib, at her, his words summarized the life of Um Samih who spends most of her time helping the needy.
In eastern Ghouta, in the countryside of Damascus, you can hardly find someone who doesn’t know the Palestinian Um Samih and the needy have amazing stories to tell about her. Among the ruins of the buildings and under missiles, she reaches the them either by her Suzuki or by walking or even crawling between the rubble.
Um Samih’s father was born in the city of Jaffa in Palestine, he then came to Damascus, she lived there and earned a degree in English literature from its University, she worked then in translation.
With the start of the Syrian uprising, Um Samih organized peaceful activities and went out to sit-ins and demonstrations condemning the massacres committed by the regime, which led her to arrest and torture.
She was present at the sit-in of the Tiliani hospital in central Damascus, to condemn the massacre which happened in Hula in 2012, which the majority of its victims were children. Um Samih was subjected to all kinds of insults by the Syrian security personnel.
Um Samih says the intensive insults were because she is Palestinian and her husband is Syrian and because this was the second time for her to be arrested. “We were carrying candles so they arrested me for eight days”, she adds.
Um Samih stayed in prison then for two weeks. Every time Um Samih was called to investigation she comes back crying. She got insulted and they threatened her of arresting and torturing her husband, her son and daughter who was in high school.
After her release from the second arrest, the Syrian security arrested her son, Samih Bahra, a
medical student in Damascus, few months before graduating, where he worked in the treatment of the wounded and the provision of medicine. He also worked in hospitals to aid the wounded demonstrators.
Her charity activities in serving the needy have lead her to the third arrest. She says “Someone called me asking for my help, claiming to be displaced sleeping in the streets and have no money to buy food”.
Surely, she rushed to help with sum of money to house your family and rent a house. In that specific place, a Syrian security vehicle was waiting for her. She was taken to a Syrian security branch and transferred to several security branches for two months.
During her arrest, Um Samih was subjected to torture of all kinds and beatings in all its forms, starvation, threats and intimidation until she emerged from that ordeal exhausted from all that she went through.
When cured, she left Damascus and moved to eastern Ghouta in the countryside of Damascus.
The Kitchen of the Free People of As-Suwayda
As siege applied by Syrian regime was tightened on the Ghota, and the resources were diminishing, Um Samih took steps to help the poorer and contacted one of her friends in As-Suwayda who was detained with her to help in collecting donations
Her project began with a simple charity kitchen funded by individual and modest contributions. Food was prepared in the kitchen and distributed to the most needy. In February 2014, 250 families of Harasta were fed by it out of the 4000 people living there.
The majority of donations came from As-Suwayda expatriates. So locals named the kitchen ” The Kitchen of the Free People of As-Suwayda”.
“The food prepared by this kitchen often consisted of cheap and nutritious ingredients such as vegetables, bulgur and rice, hoping that they could cover the needs of as many people as possible” She says.
One Hand Relief Foundation
As the work expanded and spread, the charity kitchen turned into One Hand Relief Foundation and was directed by Murshid Abu Maddal, who was killed later by an airstrike. After his death, the foundation was named Abu Murshid One Hand.
With the expansion of its work and the increase of donors, the Foundation has covered other charitable works. Um Samih directed everything from cooking to distribution, documentation, publishing on Facebook page and delivering food to the needy and trapped.
This was no longer confined to the area of Harasta, it reached several towns in eastern Ghouta, from Zebdine, Deir al-Asafir, Beit Naim, Muhammadiyah, Marj al-Sultan, Midea, and others.
The people of the region talk about her energy and her insistence on continuing to work in the most extreme circumstances. It isn’t surprising that Um Samih would travel all Ghouta to reach place no one but her have heard of in order to fill them with food and water.
The foundation tried to be self-sufficient and got a number of goats and set up a small farm for chickens to take advantage of their eggs at a time where having eggs became a dream under the siege of the Syrian regime. It distributed the products of animals for free to families and also cultivated a piece of land to use the food in the kitchen. Furthermore, it opened a shop for detergents, a lecture hall and held seminars for One Hand.
The organization headed by Um Samih, distribute food baskets, cooked food, baby milk, medicines, bread, home supplies and orphans guarantees (more than 160 guarantees). The donations to orphans and people with special needs amounted to one million Syrian pounds, in addition to clothing and blankets, sweets, games and recreational activities for children, assistance for people with special needs, distribution of firewood, water tanks, street maintenance and maintenance of water presses, maintenance of houses damaged by shelling and renovation of schools and financial help.
Regarding the difficulties Um Samih said: “It wasn’t easy to establish and expand charitable work. The difficulties were overwhelming. First, of course, was being a woman although my relief work began at the beginning of the revolution but in an individual way”.
She had to work with a cadre of mostly men, but soon gained their respect and everyone called her “Aunt Um Samih.” Another difficulty she faced was that she was “providing cooking supplies and securing support at the beginning of work, but the trust I gave them improved the work and encouraged donors to help their besieged brothers in need”.
Um Samih was often hit by frustration, but the painful reality and the suffering that people were subjected to made her frustration a fuel that drives her to transcend the ego in order to remain able to give.
She says: “I am determined to continue for the children who were prevented from their childhood since a besieged child isn’t entitled to live like the rest of the children, he is forced to accept what is possible, he is forced to accept the title of orphan because his father was martyred by missiles, he is forced to wait in line to get food, he is forced to hold a water tank that is heavier than him to take it home and he has to play in the shelter during Eid because it is safe from bombs”.
Written by Athir al-Maqdisi translated by Liberated T