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Law student recounts experiences in Syria

Katie McCarty | Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Notre Dame law student Kenan Rahmani has had his share of fear-inducing experiences in his travels to war-torn Syria, and his mission trip to the country over spring break was no exception to this rule.

“One night in Kafranbel, we were just sitting and eating and rockets started falling, fired by the Syrian government,” Rahmani said. “There were six hours of continuous bombing, and we just prayed and tried to comfort each other.”

Over Christmas break, Rahmani traveled to Syria as part of a humanitarian aid mission sponsored by the Syrian American Council. This spring break, Rahmani returned to the country in a group with 20 others, traveling from city to city to deliver aid to refugees.

Uprisings have occurred throughout Syria against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, Rahmani said. On his second trip, Rahmani said he delivered supplies like food baskets, baby formula and flour to some of the many refugees in need.

Refugee camps are filled with people freezing and children starving, and there even some camps in which families live on one boiled potato per day, Rahmani said.

For this trip, Rahmani and his companions journeyed with $100,000 of supplies raised via online donations.

 “These [donors] come from cities all across the country,” Rahmani said. “They went to their families and friends, and it was a massive online campaign.”

“We split the $100,000 into several different areas. Thirty thousand dollars went to providing food baskets to people in need within the city of Aleppo, and another $20,000 went to food baskets for people in the province of Idlib.”

Rahmani and his companions provided aid in areas liberated by the Free Syrian Army, a rebel group that fights against the Syrian government. There are approximately five to six million refugees displaced by the war, he said.

Rahmani and his companions also used $10,000 for various projects in refugee camps.

“We built a sewer system at one camp,” Rahmani said.  “Five thousand dollars spent on the system will probably save about $100,000 over the course of the summer.”

“We also worked on water filtration project and a project to improve the representation of women within the organization and management of the camps.”

The group spent $20,000 to provide baby formula and flour to people in need in other areas of the country, as well as $15,000 given to Syrians in the city of Kafranbel, where Rahmani and his companions endured six hours of continuous bombing.

Rahmani said he experienced another scare as he and his companions drove into the city of Aleppo. They were driving on the highway when one of the men in the car started to scream at the driver, Rahmani said.

“He said, ‘The next checkpoint is government-controlled, if they find these people they will torture them and kill them,'” Rahmani said. “If I had just gone a little bit further they would have captured us and tortured us.”

Approximately 60 percent of the country is in rebel hands, but Rahmani said the war has reached a stalemate.

“The rebels don’t have the weapons they need, and the government cannot retake the areas the rebels have taken,” Rahmani said.

Violence is widespread in the country, and 15 to 20 architecture students at the University of Damascus were recently killed by bombing, Rahmani said.
Notre Dame will hold a vigil for the victims tonight at 7 p.m at the Grotto.

Contact Katie McCarty at [email protected]