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Episode 3: Sidra's Smile

In episode three, we follow Farris Barakat to Reyhanli, Turkey where he is working to complete his brother's mission and help Syrian refugee kids smile. 

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  Stories with a Heartbeat is a new podcast hosted by poet Will McInerney that explores the human condition in conflict through poetry, listening, and conversation.

An image of Will McInerney
Credit Jackson Hall / WUNC
Host Will McInerney

Over the past two episodes, Stories with a Heartbeat has been exploring personal narratives and connections to the Chapel Hill Shootings. On February 10th, 2015 Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha were murdered in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. All three young American-Muslims were shot and killed execution style in their home.

The Barakat’s, a Syrian American family, have close ties the region and are known for helping those in need. The summer after the Chapel Hill Shootings, Deah’s brother Farris Barakat, and his father Namee Barakat, went to the Turkish-Syrian border to volunteer.  

Deah planned the trip, but Farris and his father fulfilled the promise.

Well actually Deah planned the trip, but Farris and his father fulfilled the promise.

Before Deah was killed, he was fundraising in North Carolina to support the dental needs of Syrian refugees living in Turkey. He was planning to travel to the Turkish-Syrian border during the summer of 2015 to provide supplies and medical support. Deah never made the trip. But after his death, the clinic he planned to visit was renamed in his honor.

In the wake of his death, his brother Farris, picked up the challenge.

"Everybody knew why we were there in a sense. It became meaningful to us, lets put it that way, because of the story of the fact that Deah wanted to do, Deah planned it."

A picture of Farris Barakat in Istanbul, Turkey.
Credit Will McInerney / WUNC
Farris Barakat

  During the trip, Farris, his father, and a few dozen volunteers from the US provided medical and dental support to lots of refugees in need. But Farris is not a doctor or a dentist. His job on the trip was to make kids feel at ease; to try to get them to smile. One particular kid stood out, Sidra.

She had just escaped the war across the border in Syria. After loosing several family members, Sidra struggled to adjust and connect. Over the course of his time at the clinic, Farris made it his mission to make her feel welcome.

"I also have a brother who was killed. Her brother and her father were killed. She’s left with 7 sisters and 1 brother, 13-year-old brother. So I tried to use that I tried showing her photo’s from my phone of my brother and things like that, personalizing it. Letting her know that I really am just there to talk to her. I’m not there to do anything else."

Various dental chairs set up in a large open rooms full of medical supplies.
Credit Jorge Valencia / WUNC
Volunteers from across the US traveled to Reyhanli, Turkey to support the Deah, Yusor, and Razan Dental Clinic.

At the end of the week, Farris ran back to say one last goodbye to Sidra.

"And that’s when she smiled. And I was like dude she has a beautiful smile. It was the first real smile. Sometimes she would crack a little [smirk] and then go back to her like rigid face. But when she saw that someone cared about her, she smiled..."

Before he was killed, Deah dreamed of helping kids like Sidra. He called his plan, Project Refugee Smiles. His older brother Farris and his father made that dream come true.

As the episode closes, host Will McInerney reflects on Farris’s journey with this poem.

A smile and a bleeding heart. A healing wound and a fresh scar. Conflict is a window into the human condition. And when light shines through potential blooms. There is pain in Farris’s voice. A lot of pain. But in the midst of so much suffering, he has found the strength to mourn and to grow, to connect and to inspire. His heart is an olive branch. His heart is a lesson bound in courage. Will we extend an arm? Will we listen?

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Music on Stories with a Heartbeat is created by Stephen Levitin aka Apple Juice Kid. 

Will McInerney is an award-winning spoken word poet, storyteller, educator, and journalist specializing in the intersection of conflict resolution and creative expression. Will hosts and produces Stories with a Heartbeat, a new podcast that explores the complexity of the human condition in conflict through poetry, stories, and conversation. In addition, Will helps with education reporting and produces the My Teacher Project.
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