Canadian prosthetist Kees Beek shares the joy of helping amputees reintegrate into the mainstream

    • By Ghada Al Atrash Special to Weekend Review
    • Published: 21:30 January 23, 2014
    • Gulf News

  • Image Credit:
  • Kees Beek says that despite the advances in technology, the prosthesis is always second best to the ‘incredibly complex’ original limb

“The opportunity for job satisfaction in my profession is there virtually every day,” says Canadian Kees Beek. Beek is a prosthetist living and practising in Cranbrook, British Columbia. He is the professional who tailors, moulds, and creates a prosthesis to take the place of a missing limb for all levels of amputations.

“Surgeons do their work and perform the amputations hoping to save as much of the limb as possible for optimal function,” he explains. “But depending on the trauma, sometimes the surgeons are not able to leave a very functional residual limb, which makes it more difficult both for both me and the patient.”

A residual limb is considered more functional when an amputation is performed below a joint, whether below the elbow or knee.

“There are all different complexities and components that can go into making a prosthesis,” Beek says. “For example, geriatric patients who lose a leg due to circulatory complications have little demands as their goal is to be independent and ambulatory within their own home or community versus having to chase after a child or run around the block for exercise.”

The process of creating a prosthesis can get complicated. “Sometimes, I think — wow, what am I up against here?” Beek says. “I’m trying to replace [a part of] or to restore function to such an incredibly complex being, dealing with man-made things that are really so far inferior to the original. But I still have to make the best of what is available and embrace the new developments and technology.”

After 30 years of work in this profession, Beek reflects on the great advancements of technology and recalls how when he first began — since the familiar “wooden leg”. “It’s a career that has evolved from a trade to a profession,” he says.

With a chuckle, he notes, “We were once called ‘limb-carvers’ and that is because we carved sockets out of wood and basically fit them on to a residual limb. Plastics and laminate materials then replaced the wood, and today we are using carbon-fibre components.”

A prosthetist’s job sometimes involves seeing a patient for the rest of his or her life, especially when dealing with younger amputees whose growth necessitates constant modifications and adjustments.

The latest advancements in his field, Kees says, include “computer controlled artificial feet that have come into the market within the past five years or so. These feet are almost bionic! They have small motors, whether in the foot or knee joint, and they are programmed in such a way that they can react to forces placed on them.

“I hesitate to make it so simple — but as an example, there are sensors within the prosthetic foot that sense and read the forces exerted on the foot depending on whether one is walking uphill or going downhill.”

He adds that over the past 20 years, “fantastic” advances in the material have improved the weight and strength of prosthetic devices, especially with the introduction of carbon fibre and titanium.

“The most advanced technology is the computerised knee,” Beek says. “This has tremendously changed the quality of life for above-the-knee amputees, who, before development of this technology, had to deal with a single-pivot hinge that could not behave dynamically. By that I am referring to the ability of giving resistance when needed or no resistance when appropriate, whether in deep snow or thick grass.

“Say that you want to kick a soccer ball with your son — if it were a regular free hinge, you would bring your leg forward and the inertia would keep your foot back, whereas a computerised knee will read this act and prompt the knee to stay stiff, and then loosen it again instantaneously. It’s really cool!”

Beek is quick to add a reminder that all of what is being created with the latest technology is simply nothing more than an act of mimicking the original.

“It’s mind-boggling,” he says, “The complexity of the human organism is unbelievable. The simple act of taking five steps down a hallway is in reality so ridiculously complicated, with so many subtleties. It is absolutely astonishing how it all comes together, seldom anything going wrong, even in the developmental stages. It is just amazing!”

On an emotional note, he says, “I usually tell my patients, ‘Within a year, my prediction is that you are going to meet somebody new whom you haven’t met before and they will not be able to tell that you are an amputee.’ Their response is always: ‘There is no way that’s going to happen; everyone will see that I am limping or walking with an artificial limb.’”

But the feeling is indescribable, Beek says, when an amputee approaches him and says, “Somebody came to me today and said that they did not know that I was an amputee and they knocked on my leg, looked at me and said ‘We can’t believe it.’”

In Canada, the funding for a basic prosthesis is covered by Canadian Health Care. Additionally, an initiative was established by an organisation called WarAmps, created after the First World War, to help rehabilitate veterans who had sustained amputations. The organisation solicited donations from the public and paid for extra expenses such as speciality artificial limbs. As the number of war amputees drastically decreased, the organisation changed its mandate, focusing on child amputees and launching the Child Amputee Program (CHAMP). Foster support is extended to child amputees all across Canada where CHAMP covers the extra costs (above the basic that is covered by health care) and for speciality prostheses. For example, a regular prosthesis that a child would use for everyday purposes may not be appropriate for swimming in a pool or fishing in a lake, so CHAMP pays for a speciality prosthesis. “Today, I am working on a sledge hockey arm for a child who desires to join his class in playing hockey,” Beek says. In addition, CHAMP also provides emotional support to the children and helps them develop a positive approach to challenges.

Reflecting on a moving and inspiring incident, Beek shares a story about a boy whose family immigrated to Canada as refugees from Myanmar. He describes how this boy was born missing all four limbs from above the elbow and above the knee. “It still amazes me how he can get around without anything; nothing stops him,” Beek says.

It was Beek who took on the task of creating prosthetics for this 12-year-old. The legs were made shorter at the beginning so that this boy can get an idea of what it is to be balanced on legs. Then the legs were adjusted to the normal length. “He is an amazing young man — too agreeable! I have never seen him complain. You ask him if his legs are bothering him or if there is anything that he would like changed, and his reply is always, ‘No, it’s all good.’”

Recently, Beek was approached by one of the boy’s teachers who asked him if it would be possible to create something to help the boy with using the computer keyboard. Beek ended up making arm sockets for this boy so that he can type like everyone else in the classroom.

“He is now skiing too!” Beek then says with beaming excitement. “I have created skis for him and I have taken him skiing myself!

“I feel very fortunate to have stumbled into this work. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do after high school. I knew that I liked working with my hands and making things, but I wasn’t interested in a traditional trade, such as becoming a carpenter, although I would give carpentry a second thought as I think it’s a great profession. However, I find that my profession combines working with your head, hands and people too. There is gratification on a daily basis. It’s pretty easy to feel good about getting somebody up and walking. Those patients think they are never going to be able to walk again, that it’s the beginning of the end for them. Then, when they do finally stand up and take a few steps, it’s like all of a sudden that light at the end of the tunnel is there when it wasn’t there before. It’s great!”

Gulf News

  • By Ghada Al Atrash | Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 17:00 December 18, 2013

Syrian novelist Najat Abdul Samad writes: “When I am overcome by weakness, I bandage my heart with the patience of Syrian women in adversity.”

A few days ago, as I sat to listen to one of my favourite radio shows (CBC’s The Current by Anna Maria Tremonti), I heard the voice of an 11-year-old Syrian boy transmitted from within Syrian borders to my home in Calgary, Canada — a Syrian boy telling his personal account about a war that has torn a once beautiful Syria into pieces.

In the interview, the solemn-hearted boy explained that both his father and 18-year-old brother had been “taken” for many months, leaving him with a very heavy load to carry on his young and undeveloped shoulders as the newly designated “head” of the family. He talks about his current work in the black market, selling gas so that he can provide for his sisters and mother. He reported that a day earlier, a shell had fallen in the courtyard of his home. While his family was once terrified, “just paralysed,” of the shelling and strikes, they have now “gotten used to it; it’s become normal; an everyday thing”. He went on to say: “I’d be out walking and seeing strikes just hundreds of metres from where I am.”

This boy also shared his one wish with his listeners: “I want things to go back to normal.” Yet he insists: “But I won’t leave Syria. I want to stay. I can’t leave my family. Where will I go? And I am sad about my dad and brother. I haven’t seen them for ten months.”

As he spoke, I closely listened to his Arabic in the background and I told myself: “My God, this boy sounds more like a 60-year-old man!” This is a child who has been denied the joy and innocence of childhood. His hardhearted fate has deprived him of ever again feeling that tantalising pleasure of standing carefree at the street corner and admiring the neighbour’s daughter as her imagery flirtingly meandered through his veins. His worries are now much older than his years and his burdens are much heavier than most.

I have no desire whatsoever to discuss political sides for I deeply believe that all sides are practising the cruellest and most savage forms of inhumanity and most ironically — all in the name of God or a country. Indeed, it is acutely disheartening.

But today I wish to reflect on, and to try to feel the pain of, that boy whose voice penetrated my heart and pierced my soul.

My son, Aamer, happens to be of the same age — Aamer, whose worries involve Fifa World Cup matters, a Christmas wish list and whether or not he can try his luck again and ask for a third pair of DC shoes.

Aamer, and for that matter everyone — young and old — needs to hear the voice of that 11-year-old Syrian boy, a voice that pounds at the heart and shakes the soul, awakening every cell in one’s dormant conscience. For this boy happens to be a real boy who once liked to play football with his friends, but who has now lost both his playmates and his childhood overnight; his pain is real and it is immense. The last thing on his mind is football and he most likely owns only one pair of shoes that are too small for his fast-growing feet. He is a boy who, like mine and yours, might have once dreamt of becoming an aviation engineer or perhaps a dentist or an artist, but in reality, he will most probably never have a chance at realising his dreams.

If only I could have a chance to speak to this boy, I would tell him that his voice has changed me in ways that he cannot imagine. I would tell him that regardless of his name, whether Ahmad, Ali, or Joseph, and despite the fact that we do not know one another, we happen to have one thing in common: A deep sorrow for a lost homeland, for we are both Syrians. I would tell him that his words have dwarfed my “problems” into the size of specks of dust when juxtaposed to his endless dark sky of pain. I would tell him that he touched me in ways for which I will forever thank him and that he is much wiser and much more patient than I could ever dream of becoming. I would tell him that he is the deepest embodiment of the definition of resilience. I would also share with him my only wish this Christmas — for a miracle to happen, rescuing our beloved Syria and its children from the ravenous teeth of this heartless civil war.

I happen to tuck Najat’s quote beneath my pillow every night. It has become my weapon to fight the weak and dark moments in life. Tonight, as I revisit her powerful lines, I will add a few more words to them: “When I am overcome by weakness, I bandage my heart with the patience of Syrian women and the resilience of Syrian children in adversity.”

    • By Ghada Alatrash Special to Weekend Review
    • Published: 21:30 January 31, 2013Gulf News 

  • Image Credit: Courtesy Joel Kaiser
  • Joel Kaiser (right) discusses building of shelters with the mayor of Jacmel, Haiti, in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.

  • Image Credit: Courtesy Joel Kaiser
  • Kasier says: “In a way this picture captured how I experienced [Afghanis]–smiling; resourceful; resolute.” The photo was taken near Mazar-i-sharif, Afghanistan, in 2001

A spark of hope is ignited when one crosses paths with someone like Joel Kaiser, “a humanitarian professional”. In a world where peace is a far-fetched dream, it is good to know that there are those who are working to try and rebuild what is destroyed by natural, and sadly man-made, disasters.

Mother Teresa says, “Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person” — and this is precisely what Kaiser has been doing through his work with emergency relief organisations. At present, he is employed as an emergency response officer with Medair, a non-profit humanitarian organisation that “brings relief and recovery to remote and devastated communities — health and nutrition services, safe drinking water, latrines, protective shelter — whatever families need to survive a crisis and regain their strength”. At present, Medair’s teams are working in Afghanistan, Chad, DR Congo, Haiti, Madagascar, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Zimbabwe — countries classified as the most devastated spots in the world and that are most in need.

Kaiser is in his mid-thirties and originally from Cranbrook, Canada, a small town fenced by the Rocky Mountains in the western province of British Columbia. After graduating from college with a degree in journalism, Joel decided that he wanted more than a comfortable job and a mapped-out life. He wanted to take on the world, walk its hills and valleys, and experience its pleasure and pain.

His adventures began with a journey to Brazil, to the banks of the Amazon River. It was intended to be a leisurely trip but he soon found himself working with Samaritan’s Purse, a Canadian Christian organisation that provides “spiritual and physical aid to victims of natural disaster, war, disease and famine”.

Ever since, for the past eight years, Kaiser has been stationed in the saddest corners of our world, working for a number of organisations including the Canadian Red Cross and Food for the Hungry.

Kaiser’s eyes reflect the pain they have witnessed as he tells of his different experiences. He recounts his yearlong stint in Afghanistan, for example, in a northern city near Mazar Al Sharif called Kholm, where he oversaw infrastructure rehabilitation (schools, hospitals and clinics) and vocational training. When asked to describe his experience there, he says, “It was fantastic. Yes, difficult, but we had the opportunity to rebuild hospitals, schools and clinics that were destroyed by the Taliban. We took trained carpenters and builders, and trained the youth to become plumbers and electricians under the condition that they dropped their guns.” He goes on to say that thousands of young men were trained, and in addition, five schools, a hospital and a clinic were built and staffed with women his team trained as nurses and teachers.

One of the obstacles encountered in Afghanistan was the task of convincing fathers to allow their daughters to be trained as nurses by people who hold Western ideals. Kaiser explains that it required “lots of coffees and teas with lots of fathers” to win their trust and persuade them to send their daughters for education and training.

But there were moments that pained Kaiser. “Because we were not able to visit all the villages, parents came to us complaining that we were too late and that their children had died,” he says. “At this sight, you stand helpless and enveloped with a suffocating feeling of guilt because you feel like you should have, and possibly could have, done more.”

After experiencing such circumstances, Kaiser admits to feeling “hardened and callous” at times — perhaps a natural coping mechanism to stomach such pain.

At the end of each of his journey, Kaiser returned home to Canada, “burnt out”, wishing for an interval of normal life — “to be able to do the mundane things people do, go out with a girlfriend, or work a 9-to-5 job like other people in town.”

He adds, “The last thing you want to do when home is to talk about what happened; more often one simply wants to leave behind bad memories and not think of them ever again.”

Yet contrary to his wishes, the pain is visibly part of Kaiser’s identity and a component of his make-up.

“But as always, sooner than later, another assignment was bound to come into my inbox, another place where people need help,” he says.

When asked about his ultimate goal in life, Kaiser replies with deep conviction, “My hope is to leave the world a better place than when I arrived; this is what I want to do with my life.”

While in conversation, one wonders about that exceptionally admirable drive that compels a person to choose to live in the worst of circumstances and to risk their life for others. To Kaiser, apart from hoping to make the world a better place, it is also a desire to “atone for mistakes”.

He explains: “I was blessed with a lot in life. So, I’m tough on myself. That desire to push yourself to come to the aid of others despite the most extreme environments is also a form of self-sabotage — a way to ensure I never get comfortable with decadence, which only leads to more mistakes and a life wasted.”

Kaiser also speaks of his experience during deadly Hurricane Katrina in the United States. Describing it as “insanity”, he says, “The whole place was flooded; we didn’t know where to begin.” With unreserved frustration, he recounts the difficulty of working in the US, “The situation was so political. The recovery stage was basically to find long-term shelter for those who had lost everything in the storm.” However, American race politics brought along many challenges, such as “trying to find white families willing to take in a black family.”

Another vivid image carved in Kaiser’s mind is that of the tsunami that hit Indonesia in 2004. “During an assessment, we flew into a village by helicopter where people essentially emerged out of the mud, and due to the circumstances, all we had to offer them was a bottle of water … You really hate yourself after that,” he recalls.

How do you explain the suffering in the world? I ask. He says, “I’m not satisfied with any answer religion has provided.” He suggests a solution: “collective action informed by evidence-based knowledge. I’m not saying science will save us, but it’s done a pretty good job so far. Communities across the world cannot stop disasters from happening, but they can eliminate vulnerability, such as poverty, that make disasters that much worse.”

In addition to his hands-on experience, Kaiser holds a masters degree in international studies with an emphasis on recovery from complex emergencies from Simon Frasier University in Vancouver, Canada.

Aid efforts typically focus on the politics and economics of a specific place and, he rues, avoid addressing cultural practices and beliefs. “Culture is a primary constraint to development, and yet nobody dares to question ‘why do you raise your children with prejudices?’ because this gets personal,” he says. “Instead, aid agencies focus on political and economic goals by helping create things such as hospitals, schools, courts and elections.”

Most recently, he was on a three-month assignment in the northern part of Jordan extending emergency aid to Syrian refugees. Many Syrians are now renting houses, rooms, and garages in Jordanian cities including Irbid, Mafraq, Zarqa and Ramtha, while others are living in tents in the Al Zatary refugee camp, he says.

“Syrians are in dire need of aid, but the money simply isn’t there,” he says, adding that despite being short of donor contributions, Medair still looks to find the most vulnerable and help with whatever possible means — they pay rent for refugee families, winterise tents and help construct latrines. “In some instances we provide financial assistance, in an attempt to keep children away from begging in the streets or being exploited by landlords, and so we take on the cost of rent whenever possible.”

He believes, however, that the revolution has been an extreme awakening for the Syrians where “on the one hand you see the worst of suffering and tears, and on the other people coming together hand in hand, mothers taking care of their mothers, children helping other children, families sharing what little they have with other families.” He stops for a moment and then says, “You see resilience.”

When asked to describe the most painful scene he witnessed while working with Syrians, Kaiser recalls “seeing unaccompanied children, a 15-year-old girl carrying her siblings and having to provide for them”. He adds, “This girl automatically finds herself at a significant disadvantage as she attempts to provide for her siblings, sometimes at the expense of her own dignity — which is extremely important to her future. Some Syrian girls have to prostitute themselves while there are stories of others who are sold as brides to provide for rent. But because of cultural taboos, people are unwilling to talk about it!” Consequently, Kaiser explains, such cultural taboos stand as impediments when it comes to quantifying and reporting these problems: “In a situation such as this, if you cannot report these problems, it’s as if they never occurred.”

“Sorrowful,” he sums it up. “Seeing children dead is part of the reality of a war — you come to expect it — but more painful is seeing children exploited — that breaks your heart.”

By Ghada Alatrash | Special to Gulf News  Gulf News

Published: 00:00 January 31, 2013

An ‘R-Rated’ classification in Canada categorizes a movie as ‘Restricted’ where persons under 18 years of age “are not permitted to attend under any circumstances as the movies may contain brutality/graphic violence, frequent sexual activity, intense horror and/or other disturbing content”.

Yet what I was asked to present to pupils, in my opinion, was beyond R-Rated, for my presentation was about Syria, a place where children are slaughtered, left lying on sidewalks with bodies grotesquely disfigured by burns or bullet wounds.

If I were to classify such images, I would perhaps choose the letter ‘U’ for unimaginable, unfathomable, unbelievable, or ‘I’ for inhumane, and inconceivable, or ‘B’ for beyond human imagination, for what has been transmitted about Syria by camera lenses exposes the worst of human savagery and brutality, of cold-bloodedness and immorality.

Last month, I was asked by one of my children’s school teachers to speak to the pupils about Syria. My objective was to create awareness of the suffering in Syria, and furthermore, to team up with other humanitarian efforts and extend relief to Syrian families enduring the bitter cold in refugee camps, where it has been reported that the cold has become a cause of death for Syrian children.

Most challenging about my task was the age of my audience which ranged from kindergarten to grade 6. I was to create awareness amongst the pupils, but at the same time, I had to walk the fine line of not exposing them to images that would likely turn into nightmares later that night. I was certain that any parent in the school would deem the images of the Syrian daily reality as too much to fathom for their school-age children living within the borders of an idealistic, war-free Canada.

And so I titled my talk ‘Think of Others’ as per the poem of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and began my research for something appropriate through the endless snapshots of charred bodies and disfigured corpses of Syrians, old and young.

One of the photos I came across was of a number of children lying in hospital beds with amputated hands or legs. There were no traces of blood, only white gauze. However, after discussing the photo with the teacher, we decided that it might be too disturbing for the children, and so I excluded yet another slide from my presentation.

I chose images I thought would be tolerable for this age group — of children standing in the ruins of their destroyed homes, of two boys wrapped in one blanket to protect their feeble bodies from the biting cold, or of a young girl holding an infant on her arm while her other siblings clung onto her crying with eyes that reflected the horror they had witnessed.

As I spoke of the Syrian reality, I saw that the children were very attentive — their awareness was coming into being; they were beginning to think, to visualise, and more importantly, to feel. It was as if they could feel the cold and hear the weeping of the Syrian children — they were thinking of others.

Most of the children in my audience were Canadian, but despite the fact, I assured them that they would be able to sing along to an Arabic song sung by Arab children. And indeed, as the song Biktub ismik ya blaadi’al shams il ma bitgheeb (I will write the name of my homeland on a sun that will never set) resounded in the auditorium, the children echoed along to a chorus of ‘la la la la la la la …’ — a unison of voices that brought about a poignantly magical harmony.

After the presentation, Lauren, a first grade student, put her tiny hand in mine, and asked, “Next time you visit Syria, can you take me with you?”

Justin, a 5th grade student, chased me down the playground and said, “I have $23; it’s all I have, and I want to give all my money to help the Syrian children.” A few weeks later, his grandmother knocked on my door and handed me another $ 40 Canadian that Justin had collected by shovelling snow off the neighbours’ driveways.

And Marcel, another first grade student, emptied his billfold into an envelope and handed it to me with his little hands — the envelope clinked and jingled as the metal coins slid from one side to another.

Today, after only one month of collective work, the students of small St Mary’s Catholic School (BC, Canada) have raised $3,300 with which they plan to buy eleven winter baskets to send to their fellow Syrian brothers and sisters.

What a beautiful world it would be if our political leaders had the hearts and minds of Lauren, Justin, and Marcel in a despairing, pained world.


Ghada Alatrash, writer and translator, holds a Master’s degree in English. Her first work of translation So That the Poem Remains was released in October 2012.

  • By Ghada Al Atrash, Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 00:00 September 21, 2012
  • Gulf News

Image Credit: Niño Jose Heredia/©Gulf News

Stop the killing! We are people who love life!”—a message voiced by the Syrian people to the world in a 24-minute documentary, Memories of a Checkpoint, produced by Syrian filmmaker Tamer Al Awwam recently before his death.
Al Awwam, Syrian activist, filmmaker, journalist and writer, was killed in Aleppo on September 10 as he set off on a mission to convey to a disappointingly silent humanity what has become of his beloved, war-torn homeland. In a conversation with his first-cousin, Dr Najat Abdul Samad, she relates that Tamer, born in 1977 in the city of Sweida (a city in the southwest part of Syria), was the youngest of eight children.
Samad soulfully reflects on the memories of her childhood with Tamer and says, “What I remember most about Tamer is that he constantly complained about the way in which we live; in his mind he imagined a better life, and repeatedly declared, ‘We have to do something. Anything can help!’”
Samad then goes on to tell of her grieving aunt, Tamer’s mother, who desperately begged her youngest child, time and time again, “My son, your generation doesn’t know the meaning of war! Beware of those who do not fear God!”
“But nonetheless, Tamer remained steadfast and committed to his cause. He asked his mother to bless, understand, and forgive him, and continued with his mission,” Samad said.
Self-appointed mission
Tamer began his travels along the Turkey-Syria border at the start of the revolution and offered his time and efforts to help Syrian refugees. But that was not enough for him. Soon after, he decided to embark on a self-appointed mission, into the battlefield, aiming to report to the world the human pain and heart-wrenching reality that was taking place on the streets and in the neighbourhoods of his country.
“He returned to Syria a few days before his death… to his beloved land on whose soil he met his demise. He returned a beautiful bird… a drink of water for a thirsty soil,” said Samad.
Tamer lived and studied in Germany for a number of years before his final return to Syria. One of his friends, Bader Alabed, a Syrian dental PhD student attending a German university, describes Tamer as a “one-of-a-kind, revolutionary spirit”. He explains, “Tamer was so liberal in his thoughts and actions that even some of the most liberal communists were unable to understand his way of thinking. Tamer had no limits, no boundaries whatsoever!”
Bader also recalls a time when he asked his friend Tamer about how things were going with him in Syria, to which Tamer replied “I am very sad.”
Before his death, Tamer walked the streets of war-torn Idlib in northern Syria and captured what he saw in his documentary Memories of a Checkpoint. In the film, Tamer scurries through the debris of rubble-filled streets and takes us directly into the battle scene, into the line of fire, transmitting the thunderous sound of the battles and the chillingly piercing noises of flying bullets and missiles. He stops at one point to ask two children peeking from behind an open door how they are able to sleep. “We are not sleeping,” they reply.
He visits the site of a deserted school whose yards are covered in broken pieces of school desks, torn coloured-alphabet pages, and shredded report cards. He conveys to his viewers how a school that was once built to graduate Syria’s “future teachers” had been transformed into a military base with holes in the walls for sniper rifles “to shoot at children”.
Most poignantly, he brings out the heartbreaking voices of the inconsolable, bereaved mothers. Tamer’s camera lenses capture that heart-rending agony that only dwells in the eyes of a mother who has buried four children all at once, and in another’s crying, “Two [sons] are imprisoned and one is under the soil.”
An elderly man with white hair and unshaven white stubble on his tired face, suddenly appears on the camera and frantically shouts, “Just Look! Where in the world did this happen? Where? We are not sleeping; we are not sleeping—where else is this happening?” He continues to yell, “We are people, we are people‑children! They are killing children. Isn’t this sin? It’s Ramadan. We are fasting. We are fasting. My God! We are fasting. From morning [they are shelling] from 3am. We are not eating before sunrise; we are not eating dinner… All day there is shelling from planes and from cannons.”
He carries on to curse the president without any reservation or fear, while a group of school-less children display peace signs and cheer in support of the Free Syrian Army.
Shortly after the production of his work, Tamer was killed by a bomb, and his dream of seeing change and attaining freedom for his homeland remains a project in the works.
The sad reality is that the brutality of the Syrian civil war will continue for as long as there are groups from both the army and opposition forces killing one another mercilessly and incessantly, where one is destroying in the name of a country, and the other in the name of God!

  • By Ghada Al AtrashSpecial to Gulf News
  • Published: 20:00 August 2, 2012
  • Gulf News

A world that stands up for primates turns a blind eye to a humanitarian crisis
Image Credit: Niño Jose Heredia/©Gulf News

While attending a conference at Harvard University a few months ago, I noticed a group of students staging a peaceful protest at the corner of a street at Cambridge. A meditative state of silence dominated that scene.

All were dressed in black from head to toe. Some of the women wore black hats and stood in a state of pensive mourning and grief. Many held up signs with writings that read, ‘RIP Deceased Harvard Primates’, and ‘Stop Testing on Animals Now!’ One young man was carrying the photo of a monkey. The demonstrators were pleading that animals be spared the torture and suffering in a science laboratory.
This event incidentally took place on the same day that humans (not animals) were slaughtered in the Syrian city of Al Houla on May 25. The massacre claimed the lives of 108 people, including 34 women and 49 children, according to UN reports. I repeat, in case the numbers are quickly scanned by our desensitised human eyes, there were 49 children butchered on that day.
Let us for a moment reflect on this horrendous crime and allow our minds to travel beyond the printed surface of headlines and figures; let us try to think up some answers to the following questions: What was a mother’s reaction as she set eyes on her beloved child lying slaughtered in a pool of blood, that is if she had to endure the misfortune of remaining alive?
Raw pain
What about her child’s clothes — did she wash, fold, and hide them in a safe place, or did she keep them unwashed so that she could preserve a smell that was once oxygen to her heart? Will the sharp pain ever cease for a few moments and allow her a chance to dry her eyes and look for a lost smile in the midst of the shattered pieces of her heart?
Is it acceptable to watch helpless and powerless as children are slaughtered in front of our eyes?
Some might argue that things are too complicated, that strategic political plans and potential solutions are in the works. Political analysts explain that Syria has become a battleground for foreign powers. But what does it all matter to a broken-hearted mother? Whether the UN, US, Arab League, Nato, or whoever else is involved, the bottomline is that none of this can alter bitter reality or bring back her child.
Until the international community unites on a decision to end the suffering in Syria, as local groups obviously lack solutions, many more Syrian mothers are doomed to face more anguish and grief.
Earlier this week, I read the following post on the wall of a Syrian friend on Facebook: ‘A four-year-old child was found whose name is Razan Khalifeh. It is believed that she is from Douma or Masraba. She is currently safe in Damascus. If anyone has any information about her family, contact the following… Please share on the largest scale. Thank you’.
The same week I was taking a walk in a neighbourhood in Fort Worth, Texas. I saw a sign posted on a tree that read: ‘Lost cat: He is white and fluffy with brown and black tabby patches. Answers to the name Sully. If found please call…”
US President Barack Obama has a dog, and so I ask: How sad would he be for his two daughters if their dog were lost? And if the dog, God forbid, was slaughtered, what would happen to the persons who commits such an act?
Aurora shooting
Granted, the US undeniably has its own share of problems. As the world has heard, the country was awakened on July 20 to a massacre that took place at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, cutting short the lives of 12 people, including a six-year-old girl.
Two days after the shooting, Obama travelled to Aurora to offer comfort to the families of the victims, and the murderer is already undergoing trial.
So, for the 12 people dead in Colorado, the US is in a state of shock and disbelief. Everyone grieved the loss of innocent lives, vigils were held in memory of the dead, and the murderer will be punished.
For the animals tested in the labs, students held protests at Cambridge demanding that animals are rescued from their suffering, but for the 19,000 plus killed in Syria, the world continues to discuss potential solutions to the dilemma! What is wrong with this picture?
Indeed, as in the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
If Gandhi were still around, how would he have judged a nation in which humans are slaughtered, let alone children?

  • By Ghada Al Atrash, Special to Weekend Review
  • Published: 12:18 June 21, 2012
  • Gulf News
  • After Michelle and David Quinn had Eskedar and Bereket as part of their family, they had to work towards integrating them into Canadian society.
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After ten years of happy marriage, while celebrating their anniversary on an Alaskan cruise, David and Michelle Quinn took the decision to start a family. But unlike most other married couples, the Quinns did not wish to have their own biological children, for, as Michelle puts it, “Why not adopt when so many children in the world are orphaned and in need?”
Without much ado, in September of 1996, the Canadian couple began their search for their children-to-be. At the time China was a popular place for adoption. It was where the Quinns planted their first seeds of hope. However, after a rigorous and drawn-out process of extensive paperwork and interviews, China announced that it was slowing down on adoptions, leaving the Quinns broken-hearted.
But the couple quickly bounced back on their feet and they were prepared to search every corner of the globe for their awaiting children.
“Right away, we got on internet and found out that Ethiopia had a number of adoption programmes, and best of all, that it was a place where one could adopt siblings,” an upbeat Michelle says. “We thought it would be amazing to become parents to siblings!”

And so the Quinns joined the queue for adoption in Ethiopia. “Now, we had to learn about Ethiopia instead China.” Michelle recalls.
According to statistics available today, 4.6 million Ethiopian children are missing one or both parents. Moreover, hunger is besieging 12.4 million east Africans. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as it was reported on September 4, 2011, that without further assistance, an estimated “750,000 people are at risk of death” in that part of the world.
Long wait
For two years, Michelle and David were in line. “It was awful to wait; it seemed interminable. We just wanted our lives to get started,” says Michelle. However, she goes on to add that in retrospect, the wait was the easiest part of the adoption process.
Then one day, Michelle received a telephone call at the school where she worked informing her that she and her husband were matched with three-and-a-half-year-old twins and that they would receive photos of their “children” on that day.
Soon after, the elated mother-to-be proudly hung photos of the children on the door of her classroom with the words “Our twins Eskedar and Bereket!” written underneath.
Court and immigration procedures had to be initiated and finally plane reservations to Ethiopia were in order to bring the children back home to Canada.
But things did not go as smoothly as they had hoped. There was a distressing news from Ethiopia. “We learnt that the Canadian agency managing the transition home where our children were placed had gone bankrupt and that all the children in the home were eating only one meal a day,” Michelle says.
During that time, Canadian lawyer Ted Giesbrecht was asked to visit the transition home in Addis Ababa. Upon arrival, he was to find “46 children existing on “a kind of grain”. The children were between three months and three years old. Giesbrecht reported that the employees of the home were bringing their own food to keep the children from going hungry.
Meanwhile, 15 other Canadian families were matched with children and awaiting their cases to be completed.
After getting the news of the bankruptcy on July 13, 2009, the Quinns left for Addis Ababa the next day to bring their children back home. Michelle recalls her mixed feelings of anxiety and excitement as she and David arrived at the transition home and sat on the yellow couch with green and blue tropical flowers that they had seen many a time in photos.

First meeting
At last, after what seemed like a never-ending wait, two little frightened faces, a brother and his sister, appeared from behind the doors and were led to their new parents. “They were so tiny,” Michelle says, “and so very scared.”
The twins, Bereket and Eskedar, sat on the couch between their new parents. But, despite the physical proximity, there was a realisation, a stark awareness, of the vast distances of history, language and culture that separated the new parents from their children.
“We quickly pulled out some children’s books that we had brought along and a few family photo albums,” Michelle recounts. The children had a puzzled yet amused look on their faces as they flipped through the pages of the books and albums. “They gazed at the faces of their ‘granpappy’ and ‘gran’ and listened closely as we pointed to each and tried to pronounce the names in a language that was as foreign to them as Ethiopian was to a us!”
Up to this point, all was as well as could be; however, when the children realised that Canada, unlike what they had assumed, was not across the fence from their home but a place very far away from their friends and all of what was familiar, tears began to fall and feelings of anger and rage began to rise to the surface. “It was as if they were thrown into a very deep pool and all they wanted at that moment was to be rescued back to familiar, safe grounds,” Michelle says.
It also quickly became obvious to the new parents that their children were much more mature than an average Canadian of the same age. The painful circumstances they lived through had taught them lessons that Canadian children only learn many years down the road. “Bereket could skip a rope on one foot when he was three, and as young as they were, the children were assigned chores — they were skilfully able to fold clothes,” Michelle says. “During dinner outings in Addis Ababa, they would fold and refold the cloth napkins for hours!”

New home
Once on the plane, “Bereket wanted to push every button he came across and Eskedar refused to wear a seatbelt,” Michelle recalls. “But thankfully, the stewardess understood and Eskedar was exempt from buckling her belt!”
After a long flight, the new family arrived in Cranbrook only to find a crowd waiting for them at the local airport — grandparents, uncles and aunts, school children and staff, and countless friends. Eskedar pulled out the family album and tried to match the faces in the photos with those standing in the airport. Bereket decided to quietly head for the corner where his grandparents were sitting and began to share his box of raisins with them, one raisin at a time.
The first six weeks were spent at home, with the old and new members getting to know each other. “We had to start from scratch. We learnt the alphabet through stories, photos and songs,” Michelle says. “Their favourite book was ‘Panda Bear Panda Bear, What Do You Hear’?” She goes on to say that she must have read it a “gazillion” number of times! “David and I also learnt a few Ethiopian words in the process, but within three months, the children were astonishingly able to fluently communicate with us in English — it was truly amazing!”
“We prayed every night, and the children recited the English prayer they learnt in the transition home: ‘Father God, I love you. I pray Mummy, Daddy …’ And then they would throw in any other English words that they had recently learnt and pray for whatever it was they were able to pronounce,” she continues. “It also become clear to all that Eskedar had so much to share with us once she was able to express herself in English, and her social character began to emerge and fill the house with spirit and charm.”
July 2012 marks the third anniversary of the children becoming Quinns, and Canadians. In Cranbrook, a serene, sunny town fenced by the Rockies in the southeastern part of the province of British Columbia, where the family lives, Michelle teaches kindergarten at an elementary school and David works in the accounting department of a local radio station.
‘Not for the faint of heart’
I asked, “What would you say to those who are looking to adopt from Ethiopia?” Her instant response was, “I would tell them that it is indeed a most rewarding experience, but it is definitely not for the faint of heart.” In all the photos sent to them during the waiting period, Michelle explains, the children posed with happy and smiley faces. But behind the smiles were stories of suffering and great pain. Once the honeymoon period is over, the grieving period begins — grief for loss of parents, culture, and the memories that are to be reconciled to and dealt with. When asked the reason behind the high number of adoptions in Ethiopia, Michelle sums it up in one word: poverty.
I was curious to hear about the children’s reactions to their new lives in Canada — to food, for example, after having had very little of it, if any, at some points in their lives. “They love food! Their favourite is meat,” Michelle says. “At the beginning, it was very difficult to satisfy their big appetites, but they were not picky at all, and everything was delicious and beautiful to them unlike to many of our children in the West who have become jaded, bored with everything and are always demanding more.” She recounts how once at a bakery in a grocery store, Eskedar savoured every bite of a pumpkin muffin as if she were sampling a taste of paradise!

Canadians, not Ethiopians
Michelle and David are now raising their twins in a warm, loving home and have gotten into the routine; the children are enrolled in soccer and piano classes, among other activities. I had the opportunity to attend Eskedar and Bereket’s poetry recitals at a local speech-art festival and was charmed by their presence on stage and by their Canadian accent, one that was no different from any other Canadian!
When asked if the children had to face questions from others or curious comments from passers-by, Michelle says she is glad that the community has embraced her children warm-heartedly and adds, “One man in the grocery store went as far to say to Bereket, ‘You are getting to be so tall, just like your dad.’”
Bereket and Eskedar also wanted to contribute to the article and they both shared their favourite songs: For Eskedar, Adelle’s “Rolling in the Deep” was the top choice, while for Bereket it was Shakira’s World Cup song “Waka Waka” because, he explains, “it has a great beat!”
Today, Michelle is involved with the Vulnerable Children Society, a vibrant registered Canadian charity run by Canadian volunteer mums, most of whom have adopted children from Ethiopia or elsewhere in Africa. The charity’s mission is to relieve poverty by providing food, water, shelter, education, sanitation and health care to orphaned children and to the poor in Africa.(On their website, the charity invites the world to help them in their mission, and one way is by sponsoring a child with CAD35 [Dh126] a month — less than what some Canadians spend on a beauty product. The donated money goes either to feed an undernourished child, to pay for a doctor’s visit, to secure a safe place for the child to stay while their parent or guardian works, or to subsidise school education.)
Michelle and David have indeed set an example to follow. The more such stories, the more smiles instead of tears on little children’s faces!

Ghada Al Atrash holds a masters degree in English and teaches at a college in Abu Dhabi.

  • By Ghada Al Atrash Janbey, Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 00:00 July 6, 2012
  • Gulf News

Our globe is a strange place indeed: fragmented and polarised, from east to west and north to south. Regardless of which corner of the world they happen to be, humans share the same feelings of happiness and sadness, pleasure and pain, love and hate. But the truth of the matter is that they live in a disconnected state, disengaged and only mechanically aware of one another’s existence in the world.

Our borders have succeeded in breaking up our humanity into pieces where each piece represents a nation on a divided world map. Each nation then becomes a motherland for its citizens and pronounces their identity with a document called a ‘passport’. In turn, these passports become either a prosperous blessing or an ill-fated curse, depending on within which borders one is born.
I once carried a Syrian passport while living in the West — yet as patriotic as I am about my native homeland, my Syrian passport was definitely not a blessing to carry in an Arab/Islamophobic West.
US immigration was by far the worst, where time after time as I crossed US borders, every officer, without exception, was ghastly alarmed to read the word ‘Syria’ as my nationality. A state of alertness and mayhem would immediately take over. More often than not, I was asked to step to the side for an exhaustive interrogation, and on many instances, a thorough body search was performed leaving me violated and humiliated.
But my life was utterly changed as I was granted Canadian citizenship and passport. It was miraculous. Overnight, my identity was no longer threatening nor was I looked upon as a potential terrorist; instead, I was transformed into a respected human being whose nationality demanded dignity and respect.
It was especially sardonic to cross US borders with my new passport and to be greeted and welcomed with open arms — a true irony indeed as I happened to be the same woman who once presented a ‘serious’ threat to US national security but is no longer considered a danger because of a changed passport.
Fortunate few
I consider myself very fortunate as billions of others around the world dream of having my generous, life-changing fate. Their chances of travelling, whether for business, study, vacation, medical reasons, or even for refuge are very slim as they are often denied an entry visa because their country’s government is frowned upon.
Today, many of my Syrian relatives and friends are imprisoned within the borders of a country that is committing genocide against its own people. They live in a state of fear and terror, dodging bullets and shells, but have no way of escape as their passports make it difficult (if not impossible) to enter other countries.
A friend of mine carries three different passports — Canadian, American, and Swiss, so she basically has it made as she can easily breeze through most borders without the need to obtain a visa. Yet, another friend holds a passport with the word ‘un-identified’ inscribed under his nationality simply because he is an Arab living in the occupied Golan Heights, and, in turn, he is given one of two choices by the Israeli government — either to take on Israeli nationality or to put up with an ‘unidentified’ nationality as a consequence to his big-headedness.
On another interesting note, the EU (European Union) has declared 27 countries fit to be part of the European club where all countries share a burgundy colour for a passport with the words ‘European Union’ inscribed in the country’s official language on the cover of the passport.
Being part of the EU awards citizens of member countries the right to vote in European elections, the right to free movement, settlement and employment across the EU, and the right to consular protection from other EU states’ embassies.
Paying the price
However, a number of nations remain potential candidates, as is the case for Turkey whose succession to the EU has been stalled by a number of domestic and external problems. Before acceding to the EU, Turkey is to meet each of the 35 chapters of the acquis communautaire, the total body of the EU law.
Turkey is considered to be lacking in areas like social policy and employment, judiciary and fundamental rights, justice, freedom and security, education and culture, among a number of other concerns. And, needless to say, it is ordinary Turkish citizens who end up paying the price for their government’s negligence.
Indeed, to have been born within the borders of a first world country is a privilege. It is a blessing that should not be taken for granted. It grants a life of freedom, security, dignity, and opportunities. It means an open horizon where the sky is the limit. It offers one’s children a quality of life with the basics of everything, including human rights, education, health care, and so on and so forth. It is a position envied by most around the world.
The words of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish sum up the paradoxical irony in which we all live as humans. Dispossessed of a land and of an identity Darwish writes, Stripped of a name and of what I am/on soil I worked with my own hands/… All human hearts are my nationality/So rid me of my passport!”
Indeed, what a sad and painful humanity it is that divides, categorises, and at times punishes its humans on the basis of a passport.
Ghada Al Atrash holds a Master’s degree in English and taught at a college in Abu Dhabi.

Published in Daily Townsman
Cranbrook, BC Canada May 8, 2012

World renowned Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani once wrote, “I am not able to write on Damascus without jasmines spreading like vines on my fingers… Damascus is not a city resembling heaven; it is heaven.” French archaeologist and historian Andre Parrot said on Syria, “Every cultured man belongs to two nations: his own and Syria.” And UNESCO World Heritage Center wrote that Damascus “represent[s] a masterpiece of human creative genius.”

But Syria is no longer the place for poets and historians. The old times are gone-today, the Syrian streets have been transformed into bloodbaths, into a place where the most atrocious and heartless criminal acts are being committed, where bullets are shot right and left without paying heed to whether or not the target is a child.

Real human suffering is taking place in Syria, and the land is closing up on its own people. Statistics show that throughout the century hundreds of thousands of Syrians have left their homeland seeking a better life elsewhere-quite an ironic reality, one might add, as Syria has had a historical reputation for having cradled civilization since 3rd millennium B.C., yet at the same time it has failed to take care of its own people!

Countless are the real-life stories of how desperate and dire the circumstances have been for Syrians. It seems as if Syrians are predestined to a life of struggle and frustration, unless their fate rescues them by slinging them out into another corner of the world. Yet what I find most puzzling today is that many Syrians are continuing to blame the current Syrian crisis on some sort of conspiracy that has allegedly penetrated the country’s ever-peaceful grounds! But whom are they kidding for God’s sake? Indeed, to an outsider, Syria might have seemed like a quiet place in the recent years, but as every Syrian is very well aware, the truth of the matter is that ever since the past 40 years, Syrians have been suffocated under a dictatorial ruthless regime that has forced them to live in a constant state of fear and horror? Terror has hushed some, downright muted others, and has clearly brainwashed many into actually believing in the legitimacy of this most brutal of regimes!

Syrian citizens have been devoid of what is considered the basics of human rights, and they have been forced into tolerating a very pitiful reality as an acceptable way of life where any uttered sort of dissidence or defiance could cause them to literally disappear off the face of earth! But compliant or rebellious, a Syrian’s life is no less of a struggle and continues to be an arduous path planted with one hurdle after another.

A young man I have known over the past seven years, since a high school student, represents one mild example (and I underline the word mild) of an average struggle that is written on the fate of every Syrian. When I first met him, Anas was laboriously studying for the compulsory national Syrian baccalaureate exam -a test set to determine the course of study a student is to pursue at the university and ultimately sculpts the remainder of his/her life, unless, that is, the student happens to be well-connected in the country and hence worry-free of his/her performance!

After a painstaking period known as “the month of abstinence,” implying a student’s abstinence from life in general in preparation for the exam, Anas achieved excellent scores that granted him acceptance into the medical field at the University of Damascus. He later succeeded to graduate with a very good average and hoped to pursue a medical sub-specialty. However, after graduation, a student is yet faced with another hurdle which is to be accepted into sub-specialty where only a few numbers are selected due to the fact that the country allegedly does not have the means to provide a spot for all its students.

It should also be mentioned that a student with a “waasta,” the Arabic transliteration for “connection,” is able to obtain a residency spot while others with better scores have no guarantees. Anas was one of the unlucky applicants with little connections in the country. He gradually found himself standing before closed doors in an indifferent homeland and is now desperately faced with one choice-to leave the country at the earliest time possible for if he were to stay, he would have to serve a mandatory sentence in the army for a year and a half as continuing his studies (the only measure to delaying the army service) is no longer an option for him. And needless to say, this is no time for anyone to join the Syrian army!

But where can Anas go? Where can he work without an entry-visa or a foreign license to practice? And if Anas does happen to have the financial means to escape, most others in the country stand helpless! Furthermore, it should also be pointed out that once a Syrian young man immigrates, he is then to wait for a period of 5 years before he is able to return and permanently live in his own homeland and is additionally obligated to pay the sum of US $5,000 (a number that is equivalent to years of savings) in order to be exempt from having to fulfill his sentence in the mandatory army service. In other terms, a Syrian young man is insultingly worth $5,000 dollars, an amount that is being continuously paid by hundreds of thousands of Syrians into the hands of those in charge.

Yet again, Anas’ story represents only one mild example of the tens of millions of stories lived by Syrians today. A Syrian’s struggle is not only on an educational level, but on every other level, for there is lack of everything in the country from water to food to electricity, but worst of all, there is a lack of humanity -today, the streets of Syria are infested with cold, heartless, and blind creatures mercilessly and blindly annihilating anyone standing in their way!

One asks-How can any Syrian continue to justify and advocate an oppressive and tyrannous regime that has stripped away its citizens’ dignity and left them bare without the most basic of human rights? Some Syrians express that they are fearful of a worse alternative to take control of a once secular Syria-but, by God, what could possibly be worse and more criminal than that of what we are witnessing today?

  • By Ghada Al Atrash, Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 00:00 January 27, 2012
  • Gulf News
  • Image Credit: Nino Jose Heredia/©Gulf News

As an Arab raised in the US, the question of identity played an important role in my formation as an individual. My parents’ relentless struggle was to make certain that their culture and beliefs were part of my makeup and identity in a foreign western society.

The West ignited a deep fear in their hearts. Their concern lied in the uncertainty of what could become of their children who neither fully shared their old beliefs nor were completely a part of the new culture, but were part of a third culture, an amalgam of the old and the new, one that could perhaps be thought of as a hybrid product engendered by the fusion of the different cultures.

However, it is often the case that this hybrid product is frowned upon by immigrants, regardless of nationality or background, as it insinuates the denial of traditions of their pasts to continue. Indeed, there are certainly legitimate reasons for immigrant parents to shrink away from the new culture, the Other that threatens to envelope them.

And, as they begin to realise that they are in danger of losing their old identity, many react by becoming uncompromisingly determined to preserve and renew old traditions and customs, and rigidly demand of their children to embrace convictions and practices of a past they themselves have left behind in their homelands.

Such reactions also leave negative impressions on the natives of the host country, where they are often misinterpreted as disrespectful to a local culture and as looking down on its ways of life, consequently yielding tension and misunderstanding on both sides.Certainly, all parents, immigrant or non-immigrant, naturally long to instill their views and family traditions in their children. But when it comes to immigrants especially, this effort is acted upon on a conscientious level and at times with a vigorous approach — a much more complicated task as the once familiar convictions and traditions are nowhere to be found in the new surroundings.

Yet, the reality of the matter is that evolution and change are destined to happen regardless of how much we resist them — so, the question is then, why resist them? Why not accept and celebrate the new evolved product as refined and reformed?

Resisting change

Our effort as parents to recreate and forcefully impose the past in the present is a hopelessly failed effort. Moreover, resisting change might lead to negative and reverse reactions on our children’s part. We must come to terms with the fact that home to our children is belonging and familiarity.

It is not the abstract cultures of our pasts that once existed in a world very far away from their own, narrated through stories and tales, but is rather the tangible, concrete and multicultural reality in which we live at present. Our children’s identity is one that agrees with their today, not with our yesterday.

Why not look at the hybrid product, the fusion between the different cultures, as something beautiful, as a rich blend of cultures, taking the best from both worlds? Why can’t we perceive it as a continuation of the mutual development of the old and the new, as cultural diversity that preserves the pre-given cultural components acquired from one’s past and intermixes those components with present ones yielding a collective identity in a multicultural humanity?

The message here is not to imply the shedding of the past or the denial of its continuation. On the contrary, we should teach our children to take pride in their heritage and encourage them to celebrate their history — to bring their unique, original ingredients into the new mix of cultures.

Indeed, we should advance the continuation of traditions but, at the same time, while partaking in the building of bridges that can connect our own cultures with the universal human culture in which we exist today, a mosaic that celebrates the old while embracing the new.

An excerpt from Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet sums up my thoughts. Without reference to a specific nationality or identity but to humanity in general, Gibran writes: ‘Your children are not your children / They come through you but not from you / And though they are with you yet they belong not to you / You may give them your love but not your thoughts / For they have their own thoughts / You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you / For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday’.

So, let us make a genuine effort to understand our children’s new identities, and let us savour the myriad of rich flavours that come with the multicoloured global humanity in which we exist today.

Ghada Al Atrash holds a Master’s degree in English.