Rita was born in 1976 to a Christian family from Central Syria. When she married George, the love of her life, she moved to the south of the country where he worked. Together they had three children: Roula, Elias, and Dalia.
Little did Rita know that her new hometown was going to become a flashpoint for one of the bloodiest civil wars the country had ever seen. On March 6, 2011, the uprising against Syria’s dictator began when 15 teenagers were arrested for spraying anti-regime graffiti on their school’s wall. When local protestors took to the streets demanding their release, they were met with a brutal crackdown and sniper shots. Dozens died in the confrontation which led to a nationwide armed uprising and civil war.
The entire country was now divided, and it wasn’t long before Rita and her family began receiving death threats. The threats were first aimed at George, who was a local policeman. He received ultimatums to quit his job or face the consequences. But resignation was not an option for George. Loosing his sole source of income in the terrible economic situation the country was going through was inconceivable for him. Soon afterwards, the entire family started receiving death threats. Messages calling them “Christian Devils” and “traitors” were left on their doorstep along with nails underneath the tires of their car. Even the children were not spared the hatred. Their youngest daughter was beaten by other children who called her “infidel” and continued to verbally abuse her.
Fearing for their safety, the family finally decided to move to another town. They sold their house at a low price and moved into a smaller home in a slightly safer neighboring town. Unfortunately, the new location proved to be no better for their safety, as Rita and her family continued to receive death threats. Eventually on May 20, 2012, while driving back home, George’s vehicle was ambushed. Four gunmen opened fire killing him instantly and severely injuring his colleagues who were accompanying him.
When the terrible news reached Rita and the children, they were completely devastated. Not only did they lose a loving father and husband, but they also lost their protector and sole provider. Heartbroken, Rita was now left to raise her children on her own. Little did they all know that the killing of George was only the beginning in a series of tragic events they were about to experience.
Shortly after the murder, members of George’s family who disliked Rita were now working diligently to seize her house and car. His brother, a high-ranking officer, was so cruel towards George’s family that he even forced George’s 17-year-old son Elias, to clean the car from the blood stains of his murdered father. Bashar obeyed his uncle, but after completing the task, the young man was traumatized and remained in shock for several days.
Rita herself was not allowed to go back to her former job under the pretext that a widow should remain home. She kept clashing with her husband’s family who didn’t want her to become financially independent. They even had plans to take away her children.
With few options left, Rita took the children and moved to several locations before settling in a town which she thought was safe. Unfortunately for her, she was about to discover that safety was not guaranteed anywhere in Syria as long as the war was raging.
One day an explosion almost killed her daughter Roula. The young teenager was lucky enough to survive the blast, but she witnessed a gruesome sight that scarred her for life. Her friend’s father was in his car when the explosion went off, and Roula helplessly watched the man burn to his death. The horrifying sight left the girl deeply traumatized and suffering from anxiety and depression. Rita feared for the lives of her children and also began suffering from anxiety and having panic attacks, especially after a stray bullet missed her son Elias by only a few inches.
As if things were not bad enough for Rita, she woke up one day to discover that her husband’s pension had completely vanished. Apparently, his brother had withdrawn all of the funds leaving nothing for the widow and children. Broke and penniless, Rita and her children suffered malnutrition and were on the verge of starvation. They couldn’t afford heating bills for the cold winter nights. Some men who learned about Rita’s desperate situation, attempted to take advantage of her vulnerability and extort her for sex. After the local baker refused to give her bread, he came back later with an offer to give her all the bread she needs in exchange for sexual favors.
Rita became deeply desperate and was running out of options. She realized that the conditions would not get any better as long as they remained in that town. She knew that they had to leave, but she did not have the means to do so. One day she learned from one of her friends about TNF. Rita reached out for help. After years of living in a never-ending nightmare, hope was on the horizon.When contact was established, a team began preparing for an extraction mission. Moving Rita and the children to safety was a challenge due to the many military checkpoints on the roads and paths leading out of the country. But TNF operators overcame all the difficulties and were able to successfully move them out of Syria to safety. They are currently under the protection and care of TNF awaiting to be relocated overseas.
* All names were changed to protect the identity of the victims.