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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 October 2018

Syrian boy’s tragedy inspired a UAE woman to help refugees in Jordan

Muna Harib, a 35-year-old Emirati from Dubai, plans to spend this National Day giving out blankets and heaters to Syrian refugees in Jordan, spreading the UAE’s 'warmth'.
Muna Harib sitting among Syrian refugee children in May. Ms Harib will be leading a team of 14 people, including five Emiratis, to hand out aid to Syrian refugees. Courtesy Muna Harib
Muna Harib sitting among Syrian refugee children in May. Ms Harib will be leading a team of 14 people, including five Emiratis, to hand out aid to Syrian refugees. Courtesy Muna Harib

While her family and friends celebrate National Day, Muna Harib will be thousands of kilometres away.

The 35-year-old will miss this year’s spectacular shows and firework displays because she will be helping Syrian refugees in Jordan.

It all started in May. After repeatedly hearing about the plight of Syrian refugees described coldly, in terms of numbers, Ms Harib booked a flight to Jordan to visit the sprawling Zaatari camp, where about 130,000 refugees shelter.

To her, they were not numbers – each one represented an individual and a story.

“It’s human nature that we don’t relate to numbers and tend to forget what they represent and use them only as measurements on a scale,” she said. “So I decided to pick up my backpack and take the first flight to Jordan – a journey to uncover the untold stories of the Syrian refugees.”

Ms Harib, who is from Dubai and works for a semi-government body, heard many stories of hardship, but one continues to haunt.

As she was helping out at a care centre, a seven-year-old boy called Jamal came in and struck her.

He then buried his head in her arms, hit her, then hugged her and hit her again.

Curious about the boy, Ms Harib found a video that showed the trauma he had suffered. It showed the moment shells hit Jamal and his mother. His mother was killed, while Jamal was left with his intestines hanging from his body.

Ms Harib could not believe he had survived.

“This child was seeking his mum in me, the experience he went through is a breaker of any human soul, let alone a child’s,” she said.

After leaving the boy and boarding a plane back to the UAE, she burst into tears thinking of his pain.

“You will be surprised how strong those people are, they’ve been through some of the worst experiences a human can go through,” she said.

“The amount of horror is mostly obvious in the eyes of the children who’ve seen their mums and families die in front of them and who were injured.”

After her trip, which she documented in a short film, Ms Harib founded the Breathing Numbers charity to deliver aid and share the untold stories. There are now 21 people in her team.

The charity has a strong track record, donating winter clothes to 1,200 children at Zaatari, providing medical aid and launching a dedicated child centre inside the camp with two teachers.

But their new mission also carries a powerful message of “warmth from the UAE”.

This National Day, Ms Harib – with her family’s blessing – and a team of 14 including five Emiratis, will be passing out 1,200 blankets to 400 families inside and outside the Zaatari camp.

About 200 heaters will be given to families outside the camp as distribution is not permitted inside. Financial aid will be given to other families instead.

“The timing is perfect, we have a few days off for the National Day holiday and I would love nothing more than to celebrate the true meaning of the union with the rest of the world and especially with those who most need it,” Ms Harib said.

She and the Breathing Numbers team will stay in Jordan for seven days. They will search for new cases to help and hope the UAE Ambassador to Jordan will join them during their stay.

Although Ms Harib has already been to Jordan to visit the refugees nearly every weekend, she is no less excited about the coming trip.

“They put a smile on my face and I’m the one who’s poor hoping for their aid,” she said.

“I go because they need my help. They became my family, and my family is growing every day and they need help and support. Especially my children who have medical issues.”

Those who wish to donate or join Breathing Numbers can contact them via www.facebook.com/BreathingNumbers or email them at BN@BreathingNumbers.com.

osalem@thenational.ae