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Syrian Refugee Stories to Be Told at Park Theatre in VOICES OF SYRIA

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An ambitious student who always planned to return home. Two old friends who found love in a strange city. A young man who risks death to reunite his family.

In January, young Syrians will tell of their experience growing up in Syria and forging a new life here in London. Through an evening of music and storytelling, the audience will be invited to learn more about the city through Syrian eyes, and the ancient culture of Syria itself. Afterwards, Syrian volunteers will be on hand to continue the conversation about their country.

Produced by the Syrian stories blog Qisetna: Talking Syria , in collaboration with Park Theatre, Voices of Syria will take place at north London's Park Theatre on 22 January at 5pm. Tickets are £18 (includes a drink) or £16 for concessions.

The stories are the real testimony of Syrians in London. They include:

- Ali, who fled Syria as a child and crossed the Mediterranean before seeking asylum in the UK.

- Massa, a young woman filled with nostalgia for her childhood in Damascus.

- Firas, a translator who dreams of opening an Arabic language cafe.

Qisetna: Talking Syria (www.talkingsyria.com) is a non-political blog, dedicated to creating a platform where Syrians can share their stories. The project has previously been featured at the Scottish International Storytelling Festival, Refugee Week and showcased by UNESCO United for Heritage. It is maintained by volunteers based in London.

The stories, which are sourced from original first person accounts and interviews, will be voiced by young Syrians living in London.

The event will also feature Syrian photography, crafts and music.

More About the Stories

Ali had a happy childhood in the south of Syria, but everything changed in 2011, when the city he lived in became one of the centres of the protests. Ali's family fled the city to escape the violence, but their home was destroyed, and Ali, then 16, decided to try to find work in Lebanon. However, before he could find his feet, his father was killed, and Ali found himself the breadwinner for his entire family.

Unable to earn enough in Lebanon, and too afraid to return to Syria, Ali decided to seek asylum. His journey took him through the smuggler networks of north Africa, and ultimately across the dangerous waters of the Mediterranean. When Ali arrived in the UK, he was not yet 18. He is now a plumber working in London.

In an excerpt from his story, he says: "This experience has made me a different person. I faced difficulties, so I was forced to act as a man when I was young, and now I am a man. I haven't finished my studies, but, in the end, my life has been my school."

Massa, a young Syrian woman now studying in London, wrote her story for the Qisetna: Talking Syria blog , and it was consequently featured by UNESCO in the campaign Unite for Heritage.

She writes of Damascus: "I never realised the greatness of its curved roads, the busy crowded shops the night before Eid, the corn on the cob stalls, the bicycle workshop in my neighbourhood. I was always so jealous of all the kids in my neighbourhood when they took their bikes to him to get them fixed. I never learnt how to ride a bike.

"When we were little, we played hide and seek with all the kids from different neighbourhoods without caring where they came from or who their families were. We'd argue over who cheated and who won, but we always came back the next day to play together again. I wish we were still the same. I wish we still didn't care. I wish we could all have amnesia and wake the next day to play hide and seek altogether again."

Firas came to the UK as an international student, but could not return home because of the war. After successfully seeking asylum, he started working as a translator and hopes to open an Arabic language cafe.

He says of his identity in London: "Now you feel like it's really scary for some people to hear the word Syria. At work, people usually understand it's not just about the war, but it happens a lot. For example, when I am looking for a place to rent, and someone sends me an email saying: "Tell me, what do you do? Where are you from?" You can't say I'm from the Middle East. You need to say Syria.

"I understand that some people don't know much about Syria, or about other parts of the world. And now all of a sudden it's in the news everyday. So what people think about is what they see in the news - war and killing. I understand.

"To be a Londoner and part of London, perhaps it really means to not belong anywhere, and at the same time belong to one place. You can be from anywhere, but you have the city in common."

*Please note, for security reasons, some names have been changed, and we request that there is no attempt to publicly identify speakers or the authors of the stories beyond their first names.


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