Sharing Stories from the First Hand Perspective of a Syrian Refugee

By Makenzie Swift, Contributor

Campus Ministry and Social Action welcomed students to hear the inspiring story of Naouras Mousa Almatar, a former refugee from Syria, during the latest Agape Latte event on Sept. 27. 

Agape Latte gives students the opportunity to hear the stories of people in their community and encourage them to listen and learn from the real life experiences of others. 

At the event, Almatar spoke about his experience as a refugee along with changes he hopes will occur when it comes to understanding refugees. 

“As a Syrian in America, there have been a few difficulties, most of which are related to Americans’ lack of understanding of other cultures and countries, but I was given the chance to educate others about what refugees are like, and what they can do,” Almatar said.

Almatar struggled as a refugee in America, and has witnessed the struggles of other refugees, he said. 

“For example, many believe that refugees will have a hard time learning a language and integrating themselves into new and different cultures and societies, which is true in some cases, but many of the refugees that left home were doctors and engineers, and professionals who were not provided adequate work opportunities that match their skills in their newer countries,” Almatar said.

Being a refugee was difficult for Almatar, as he went through a lot of stressful and debilitating situations. However, Almatar persevered through his troubles through the utilization of a positive mindset and a great support system. 

“The people around me were absolutely one of the most important reasons I was able to hold out in many tough moments of my life here,” Almatar said. “My host family was my backbone, the rock that I relied on in my most difficult moments. My friends were accepting and understanding in ways that allowed me to grow out of my stressors and learn to deal with them better. My mentor on campus was also an important figure in reminding me that I can still make it through despite having it tough and having a very different situation than others.”

Despite the hardships that Almatar faced, being a refugee and experiencing what he went through has made him into the person he is today. His hardships have allowed him to grow and be more understanding of others, he said. 

“Having experienced violence, displacement, distress and most of the issues that come with being forced to leave home behind and start a new life has allowed me to develop a higher tolerance to experiencing negative things in general, and to better emotionally react to stressors. It has also helped me understand that most people struggle in secret and that there is always a deeper story than what we see on the surface,” Almatar said. 

Almatar hopes that sharing his story and hearing stories of other refugees will help culminate change in America, and hopefully will help open the eyes of Americans to the realities of being a refugee. 

“I believe that most people in America can help in many ways. There are many gofundme campaigns that support multiple refugee-related organizations that provide aid and help to refugees in different countries. There is also the idea that we can educate ourselves better as a community and find ways to respond to it through our college campuses and other institutional ways. To make an impact, you have to do a bit more than post a story or put a link in your bio,” he said. 

The Quadrangle spoke with some audience members following Almatar’s talk. One audience member, Alexa Harris, explained why she wanted to attend Agape Latte.

“I wanted to come support him but also I think hearing people’s back stories is so important to coexisting with one another, and being able to empathize and expand your horizons and get to know one another and different experiences,” Harris said. 

Hearing the ways in which Almatar’s story inspired Harris to think positive and be grateful for the good things in life we have, truly highlights the importance in hearing stories like his, she said. 

“Hearing stories like Naouras’ really shows you how fortunate you are and how worse or how much worse your life could be. Don’t take things for granted, basically,” Harris said. 

Linn Zapffe, a frequenter of Agape Latte sessions, gave some insight to how Almatar’s story impacted her. 

“I was impressed with his work giving psychosocial help to refugee children. He described his time as a refugee in Turkey as being about waiting to find a more permanent solution to where he could live. He chose to spend that time doing something productive that was benefiting others and which ended up influencing what he wants to do in life,” she said.

Zapffe said that this story can be a reminder to people to keep fighting for what they wish to do and to not give up even when we feel it’s too hard. 

 “I think this can be a reminder to everyone that we chose what we want to do with what we have. When life gets difficult or things don’t go as planned, we can feel bad about ourselves, or we can look at what we can do in the situation that we are in and do something productive, such as helping others.” 

Zapffe continued to explain the importance of Agape Latte and what it stands for in regard to giving people a platform to share their experiences. 

“Agape Latte is an arena for sharing these stories. It makes it easier for individuals to take the time to listen to others, who can sometimes offer a new perspective or side of a story. It also makes it easier for people to share their stories, since they know that the people who show up are interested in listening to what they say,” Zapffe said.  

Almatar encourages people to get to know others and their experiences especially in a college setting where there are so many diverse individuals.  

“Many of us do not know the stories of those sitting in class next to us and that’s an important thing to think about as you’re going through college and meeting different individuals. Working towards making the world a better place for others aligns itself well with making the world a better place for ourselves, so find something that you think is interesting and do your best to help,” Almatar said.