Mahmoud al-Tawil met his wife Suzan in Damascus back in 2013. The 26-year-old Syrian poet and activist from an area just outside the capital quickly asked the beautiful girl from Daraiyya to marry him. The two were engaged in August 2015 and married a month later. Their wedding, however, was far from traditional. Instead, the newlyweds donated the sum they would have used to hold a small wedding party – about $1,000 – to displaced Syrians in Istanbul’s Bayrampasa refugee camp.
“Syrians live in Bayrampasa in extreme poverty – in houses made out of tin. Most organizations do not give that area enough attention, so we decided to buy food for the displaced people there with the money we would have spent on our wedding,” Mahmoud told Syria Deeply. “Suzan and I went there in our wedding clothes. We donated 60 food baskets and distributed toys to 110 children,” he added.
Fatima, 36, Mahmoud’s sister who works in children’s education, was the one who chose the appropriate toys for different ages. “We made sure not to get toy guns or pretend weapons. For the older kids, we got puzzles and arts and crafts, and for the toddlers, we got stuffed animals,” Mahmoud said.
Mahmoud worked in relief aid for years – handing out donations in refugee camps was nothing new to him – but this was something different, he said.
“This time was special. People were singing and dancing with us. We felt that we were in Damascus with our family. They brought happiness to us. It was not as much about the donation as it was about sharing this moment with great and genuine people. Everything in that moment was very genuine,” Mahmoud said.
“Think of others!” said Mahmoud, alluding to words written years ago by well-known Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. These words were his invitation for Syrians to think of other Syrians. “Our homeland is built by sharing. We have to share our love, our sadness and our happiness with each other. This is the only way to rebuild our country,” Mahmoud said.
Suzan holds the same opinion. She never cared about the white dress, the cake and the music. She said those few hours brought her all the happiness she’d hoped for on her wedding day. “Since the beginning of the revolution, and because I worked extensively with the displaced, I realized that happiness is never found in shallow things like a dress; it’s in helping others,” Suzan said.
Ahmad Abu al-Kheir, a 31-year-old blogger from Tartus, got married a few months before Mahmoud and Suzan. Instead of a wedding, he hosted two parties in blockaded sections of Homs and Damascus. At each party, 100 children with special needs and autism gathered to play, sing, dance and receive presents, food and cake. “No one in this war has been harmed as much as the children. It is our responsibility to help make them happy, even if it is for one night,” Ahmad told Syria Deeply.
Fadi Haddad and his wife Najwa Jamali, both from Homs, have been living in the U.K. for 12 years, where they work in advertising and marketing. When it came time for them to marry in June 2014, they donated $10,000, the cost of their wedding, to Mosaic Syria, which works on educating children in the town of Tal Kalakh in Homs, the village of Zabadani in Damascus governorate, Judaidat Artouz in Western Ghouta, and Kafranbil in Idlib.
“The schools that Mosaic supports serve 270 kids between the ages of 14 and 18. Their goal is to fill the educational void in these areas. Most organizations focus on elementary school age, but teenagers also need education. Since we know Mosaic and trust them, we decided to donate our wedding money to them and let them put it in the right place,” Fadi said.
Top image: A photo of Mahmoud and Suzan during their wedding in Istanbul’s Bayrampasa refugee camp. (Youmna al-Dimashqi/Syria Deeply)