Culture

Sarah

Sarah Dadouch is a writer, Syrian journalist and fixer. She studied Political Science at UC Berkeley with an emphasis on International Relations. She was based in Turkey for the past year but recently moved to New York City to pursue her Masters degree at Columbia Journalism School. Her work as appeared in the New York Times, BuzzFeed News and Le Figaro.

Sarah is inspirational, fearless in her words and indefatigably dedicated to raising awareness around Syrian news and matters.  She also nurses an unhealthy obsession with Harry Potter and relies on inordinate amounts of coffee to function.

Below is an editorial penned by Sarah herself about why she does what she does. 

My name is Sarah Dadouch, but I usually go by Sarah the Syrian. I find alliteration helps people remember my name. I’m from Syria obviously, born in the States but raised in Damascus, where I lived until I was 18. I moved to California to get my bachelor’s at Berkeley, and I graduated from there in May 2015. I then moved to Turkey and worked as a fixer in Istanbul until March 2016, after which I moved to Gaziantep, a small border town in Turkey near Aleppo, and worked with Syrian media there. In Istanbul, I worked mainly with BuzzFeed News and Le Figaro but also with NYTimes, Vice, Reuters Video, and NYMag, amongst others.

I’ve been writing for as long as I remember.

My dad used to save all the horrible short stories I used to write in the top drawer of his bed stand as proof. I loved writing poetry in Arabic, until I read Harry Potter and switched to reading English books. After that, I mainly wrote in English for practice, because our school did not have any essay or reading assignments in English.

Good writers are good readers. Every writer has his or her own process, but I really believe that every good writer is a good reader. Otherwise you’re limiting yourself creatively and letting your imagination atrophy. So other people’s beautiful writing is what inspires me to write.

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A photo taken by a photojournalist, enlarged and displayed on the Berlin Wall in Germany

Reporting, on the other hand, comes from a need to do something for Syria. Writing is what I do best, and reporting is the best way in which I can help give voice to people going through the horrors of war every day.

I left Turkey at the end of July, and I am now at Columbia Journalism School doing my M.S.. My work will not be Syria-focused for the next three months, unfortunately, but will instead be focusing on a neighborhood in the Bronx, an overwhelmingly under-reported area. I think it’s hard to set a goal to achieve in three months because there is only so much one can do in such a short period, but my hope is that being thrown in a place I know nothing about — and being expected to produce reports about said place — will make me stronger as a journalist. But beyond that, I want to make my subjects feel that their voice is being heard. If one person’s story is told, and the slightest difference is made in their lives, then I can be proud of my work.

It’s difficult to have a favorite part of reporting when you’re covering the complete annihilation of your home. There aren’t exactly “best” moments, but there are some that stand out. I worked on a story with a NYTimes reporter on child labor in Istanbul. When interviewing the 13 year old, I asked him what he would like to be when he grows up.

“A superman,” he said as he drank his coke. “I want to go in people’s houses and save children from poverty, because I don’t want anyone to go through what I’ve been through.”

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Brother of the interviewee, pretending to be a journalist

Another memorable moment is when I went to Izmir with a reporter from Le Figaro. We visited a Turkish cemetery that had allocated a space for the unmarked graves of Syrians who have died in sea trying to cross to Greece. Some were barely the length of my arm, graves of children and a couple babies that had drowned in their parents’ arms. I looked up from the graves and thought, at least their resting place is beautiful. We were at the top of a mountain, surrounded by other mountains as far as the eye can see. You can see the sparkle of the water in the distance. It was so green. So quiet. All you can hope for is that they have found their peace here.

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Unmarked graves at Izmir

After Columbia, I am most likely moving back to Turkey, if they’ll have me back. But during my time here, I hope to pick up videography, because there is so much to be shot and shared with the world about Syria, and I would love to be involved in that process.

All I can hope for is that my work has an effect, not just on the international community in terms of coverage of Syria, but also on the people whose stories I share. After being neglected for so long, people have stopped caring whether you share their story or not.

“What’s the point?” they keep asking tiredly. I want to show the power of a story; I want the world to stop letting these people down. I believe those two are linked, and that is what I hope my work achieves.

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A cat man in Istanbul

I am not a journalist for the sake of journalism: I am a journalist because right now, when it comes to Syria, this is the best way in which I can contribute. I do what I do in the hope that, one day, I will go back home and continue writing the truth from my city. We have been calling for freedom for five years now, and that is the most beautiful form of freedom I could think of.

Photos courtesy of Sarah Dadouch.

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