Hany’s story

Hany, in a hopeful moment, near his family's shelter in the Bekaa Valley.

UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

Dreams, Interrupted

As a poet, rapper and university student, Hany saw opportunity everywhere. But the conflict in Syria has put his future in doubt.

Hany’s story
  • Written by
    Melissa Fleming
  • Photos by
    Andrew McConnell
14 March 2014 14 March 2014
Syria Lebanon

“If I am not a student, I am nothing.” Hany’s home is a wooden frame and plastic sheets. Thick carpets line the floor and long cushions serve as sofas. A wood stove offers warmth. A TV connected to satellite brings news from Syria.

He speaks smooth English, mastered from music videos and Dan Brown novels. He is 20 years old, and a refugee. Lost, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. “I am wasting time here.”

Hany is missing out on his dreams. Knowing this is worse than learning his house was looted and burned, after he fled for his life. It’s worse than knowing his country is bleeding and scarred. He has lost his sense of future.

Before the war, Hany’s was a life taken for granted, lived in the moment. In a quiet district of Homs, in the house his dad built, he would stare at the tree outside his bedroom and write poems.

Hany was a rapper. He performed in a band at school with his friends, and dreamed of university. His future was bright.

Hany's brother Ashraf was born on 15 March 2011 – the very day the conflict in Syria began. UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

UNHCR/Andrew McConnell
Hany's brother Ashraf was born on 15 March 2011 – the very day the conflict in Syria began.

Ashraf, his brother, was born on the day Syria’s conflict began. March 15, 2011. His family felt blessed. A new life, in a comfortable home, in a community full of friendship. 20 days later, the violence reached their neighborhood. The bombs fell, and their windows shook.

“For a year and a half we locked ourselves in,” Hany’s mother tells me. “We would squeeze into one room and sleep there, eat there.” When the shelling stopped, they ran, to see the doctor or buy supplies.

Hany brought only one thing: his high school diploma and transcripts. “These are my life, my future. I left everything behind in Syria, but not these.”

Hany was determined to graduate. He went to school every day, but the relentless sound of shooting made it hard to concentrate on his exams. Still, he excelled.

Until the horror came to their family. An aunt, uncle and cousin were murdered in their homes, their throats slit. It was the final straw.

The family grabbed their possessions and escaped with a convoy of cars, through a checkpoint manned by someone they knew. Hany brought only one thing: his high school diploma and transcripts, which he proudly displays.

When he fled Syria, Hany brought little more than his high school diploma and transcripts. UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

UNHCR/Andrew McConnell
When he fled Syria, Hany brought little more than his high school diploma and transcripts.

“These are my life, my future. I left everything behind in Syria, but not these.”

Hany has returned to poetry, to beat off the monotony. “I do it to complete my emotions,” he says. He reads a verse he wrote the evening before, in Arabic. His adoring family surround him. It is pouring rain outside. The ground has turned to mud.

Hany’s mother tells me she isn’t worried about little Ashraf. He was born to the sound of shelling, and still jumps at any loud sound. But he also dashes around in laughter when he realizes he has caught the attention of our photographer.

Ashraf, his mother tells me, will recover from his trauma. But Hany? He lost something irretrievable. Hany has lost his dreams.