Creating Social Value Blog / Social Innovation

ET&A in War-Torn Syria

By Gyda Sumadi ‘18.

Gyda Sumadi ’18.

A piece of Syria visited Babson this spring, as Dr. Mahmoud Hariri, a trauma surgeon on the ground in Syria, visited campus to share with students, faculty, and community members his first-hand experience of the tragedies to date in the now six-year long war in Syria. Syrian myself (my father was born in Damascus, and my mother is American) yet raised in the US, I’ve been so grateful to have strong ties to the country and to have been able to visit before the war.

The last time I visited Syria was in 2009, and though I never got the chance to return before the war broke out in 2011, traveling to Damascus was the most exciting times of my young years. I practiced speaking Arabic all year long before my trip so that I could pass as a local when I arrived. We spent most of the hot days between Damascus and Zabadani, a green valley surrounded by high mountains in my family’s properties. I used to run around our garden watering the plants and hand picking fruits for my afternoon snack. But today, for all we know, our apartment has either been demolished with the rest of the town, or is a base of operations for Iranian military.

During his short time at Babson, Dr. Mahmoud moved the mass of over 100 students in the audience. He spoke about the history of the war, what factors caused the rebellion, and why the Assad regime is despised by Syrians. Dr. Mahmoud cleared up many misconceptions about Syria. It’s hard for a person foreign to Syria to watch these undesirable events unfold, to fully comprehend the magnitude and severity of what is reported, and to decipher truths from falsehoods. It was beyond valuable for my peers, as many of the students had no grasp of the root cause of this tragedy or education on the country or its historic significance. Dr. Mahmoud spoke about the heroism of his colleagues and friends. He emotionally shared stories and pictures of lives saved miraculously, while sharing the harsh realities. Many doctors risk their lives only to perish with the patient they were trying to save.

By all counts, Dr. Mahmoud is a hero to the civilians threatened by the guerrilla warfare launched by the Assad regime, which directly targets health centers in Syria in the effort to eradicate everyone, including civilians and medical personnel aiding the few left of the Syrian population. Dr. Mahmoud’s visit brought back some memories for me, but different ones than the carefree hot Syrian summer days I cherish. He sparked memories of my grandparents asking me to pray for them and the other victims of mass destruction, and my grandmother saying each time we end a phone call: “Inshallah (hopefully) we will return to the old days.”

His talk brought my emotions across a spectrum ranging from sadness to anger to motivation in the span of a short hour. Seeing the pain in his eyes when he spoke about colleagues and friends that have perished in their work there made me angry that these heroes’ deaths were not celebrated or acknowledged. If it was not for Dr. Mahmoud, their stories would not have left Syria. During the event, I took a look around at the audience and saw tears in many eyes, along with horror and expressions of distress. But, what shook me the most during the event was Dr. Mahmoud’s calm demeanor; it almost seemed as if he was desensitized to the deaths, injuries, and explosions. However, the tiredness in his eyes betrayed the pressure of keeping his family alive while saving others. His expressions showed me that living in this brutality is a harsh reality that he accepts; he does not complain about the “bad luck of the draw” nor brag about his heroism.

Dr. Mahmoud took time to answer the questions following his talk. Seeing the scores of hands raise (practically begging to be called) filled me with a sense of relief. Relief that people want to know more; that they didn’t want to stay in their safe bubbles; and that they want to support those who are proactive in their service. The questions ranged from looking for deeper historical context, intricacies of political disaster, medical entrepreneurship, and education of the youth.

Planning this event at Babson, in the midst of final exams and presentations, was a way of pleading with Babson students to love the country that I love so much. Often times I feel guilty that I am so lucky that my grandparents moved to Lebanon and that I live in the safe suburbs of Massachusetts. I fear that one day my recollection of my time in Damascus before the war will fade and I won’t be able to pass on my lovely childhood summers in Syria to my progeny. But Dr. Mahmoud’s voice and words made me feel like I, as an individual, could do so much to help this cause. I felt empowered and motivated to be more active in supporting fellow Syrians survive humanitarian crisis.

Dr. Mahmoud inspired me. He gave the Babson community the most valuable gift that day, knowledge and a way to be impactful citizens. He gave us ideas on how to help Syrians in their fight to stay alive, which ranged from suggestions of reputable organizations seeking donations to NGOs to volunteer with. He lastly shared his desire for all of us to support the causes providing for education and more accessible medical treatment to all those who need it. I believe that one of the Babson students in that room will one day use entrepreneurship to help Syria rebuild the infrastructure it once had – I hope that entrepreneur is me. I hope to be able to continue the legacy summer visits to Syria with my future children..

For more information, watch Dr. Mahmoud’s talk here:

And visit organizations Dr. Mahmoud and I support:



GoFundMe for Syria by Babson: