Lena Arkawi wakes up every day to photos of dead children on her phone. She's part of a network of American activists working to help the people of Syria, but this job comes with the frustration of knowing she cannot help everyone who needs it.
Arkawi is a Syrian-American who grew up without a strong connection to her Syrian roots, she said. “As a child, I wanted to be a full-out American girl … I was really embarrassed that I was Arab or Muslim. So I would tell my friends, ‘No, no, I'm white. I don't know what you're talking about,’” she said.
After a few incidents at school where she said she was singled out as an Arab-American, Arkawi was driven to learn about her heritage and embrace her Syrian identity.
“I ended up going from the child where I rejected having roots of being Arab and Muslim, to this horrible incident that made me go, ‘Wow. This is who I am. I am a mix, a beautiful mix between Arab and American,’” she said.
In 2011, Arkawi was studying abroad in Doha when the Arab Spring began to unfold. “I thought it was inspiring. But at no point did I, in the early stages of the Arab Spring, did I think it was coming to Syria,” she said. She recalled visiting her grandmother in Syria in February 2011 when protests began breaking out on the streets of Damascus and President Bashar al-Assad assured citizens that the protests were all fake and a joke. For Arkawi, Assad’s words were a red flag. “That was unsettling. That was a point where I was like, ‘This is not going to go down well,’” she said.
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