Social Conscience

From Syria to Storyful, UL graduate Razan Ibraheem talks to Tracey Walsh about sidelining the classroom for journalism.

The conflict in her native Syria was just five months old when Razan Ibraheem first walked onto campus at University of Limerick. It was 2011 and Razan was harbouring aspirations of a life in teaching. There to complete a Master’s Degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), Razan had a job awaiting her in Syria, where she eventually hoped to open a business.

“I worked as a teacher for 10 years. I did my diploma in education and my dream was to go back to Syria and, in the future, to open my own business in language teaching.”

Before the war, Syria was ranked one of the safest countries in the world, especially in the Middle East.

Events in her home country would change her trajectory. “When it started, we never thought it would get to this level of violence and brutality. Before the war, Syria was ranked one of the safest countries in the world, especially in the Middle East. That is why the violence is so shocking for us, because it is not part of our culture. We went from a secure society to a really brutal war.”

After completing her Master’s, she worked in Limerick before opportunities led her to Dublin and a stint in Facebook. She is now a social media journalist with Storyful, a News Corporation-owned company, which provides

verified social content and information. “I never thought to be a journalist professionally but I was always motivated politically. I used to write my own articles but I think the war has made every Syrian into a journalist in some way. Social media plays a huge part in that. I thought this is a way that I can do something, so I combined my English, my writing, my social media experience and my interest in politics and I became a journalist.”

Part of her work involves authenticating online video content. She finds it difficult to remain objective watching footage of her country’s sorrow playing out on a world stage.

“You cannot remove yourself from it. You are very connected, even if it was not from my own country, the most difficult thing to see is children dying in front of the world. Your people are dying and you cannot do anything about it.

As a Syrian woman, Razan feels a huge responsibility to make sure the plight of her people is not lost in the global political landscape.

“I think it is a moral duty for every Syrian to speak up for the children and women. Social media is a great platform to highlight the situation. My focus is on humanitarian efforts but there is a duty to talk to all sides and try to do something; to ask the question, what is Syria? In the media, it is represented by bloodshed and terror. We must show the Syrian culture. We must highlight the real people and landscape and what it means to be Syrian.”

A number of families have been resettled in Ireland since the beginning of the year. Those Razan has spoken to all have one issue in common.

“What they want more of is English classes because language is so important. They want to go into the workforce and contribute to society.

“The number one element, in terms of importance, for integration is language and number two is work. It opens doors; they meet new people, they have purpose. If people cannot work, you are preventing them from moving forward. I think once a person is in the country and has applied for refugee status, then they should be allowed to work.”

Named Irish Tatler’s International Woman of the Year 2016, making sure women know their rights in their adopted countries is equally important to Razan.

“It is hugely important to empower women and young girls in all walks of life but especially in Syrian women and indeed all women of refugee status. They are strong, intelligent women and they need to realise that their voice is important and that they must stand up and be heard.” It will be seven years this summer since Razan saw her home in Latakia. Situated on the Mediterranean, it is always on her mind.

It is hugely important to empower women and young girls in all walks of life but especially in Syrian women and indeed all women of refugee status.

“In the north and east of the city, there is ongoing fighting. I always think of my family, friends and relatives there. I try to keep in touch with them but it is really tough. I talk to my friends but they are always waiting for a solution. They have lost hope and lost faith in the international community to find a peaceful solution in Syria.”

Razan hopes to return there one day.

“If there are six or seven million people outside of the country, who is going to rebuild it? I will be one of the first people to go back when I can; I think most people will try to go back.”

For now, Razan is happy in Ireland. Her rising profile here is adding its own pressure however. “I feel more responsibility. I feel that I must keep speaking up and keep people informed and talking about what is going on. It means I have a very busy life but I feel it is the least I can do.”

She is getting better at taking a little time for herself.

“I realised I needed to make space for myself, so I started getting out more a few months ago. I like cycling and walking. I took up meditation and a little yoga, just to disconnect for a while. I also like theatre and art and I try to force myself to get out and not to always work.”

While Dublin is her home for the foreseeable future, Razan holds fond memories of her time in the Mid-West.

“I think UL was my best experience in my life; it was a turning point in my personality, my career and my future. I love Limerick. The teachers were very supportive there and I made amazing friends. It was such a positive part of my life.”