Noura Al Masri: From Damascus to Chicago- Empathy Has No Boundaries

Noura is a Syrian immigrant from Damascus. She lived in Saudi Arabia for 6 years, and came to the US in November of 2000. She filed for divorce due to domestic violence, and raised her two children as a single parent in a foreign land. She was empowered through adversity from her own personal struggles, and obtained her Master’s Degree from DePaul University. The revolution in Syria drove her to take action and join a collective effort to assist with the refugee crisis.

This story was recorded in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps.


“I am originally from Syria, I was born and raised in Damascus, Syria.  I was there until I was an eighth-grader, and then my father got a job in Saudi Arabia; I moved to Riyadh with my family and I stayed there for six years, and then I had to come back to Syria for college.  I graduated in 2000, and got married and came here, to Chicago, in November, 2000.


After I got married, I had two kids really quick.  I had a divorce because of domestic violence issues, and I had to stay here to take care of my kids and make sure everything was okay with custody stuff.  Then I completed my masters degree at DePaul University, I have a business information psychology Masters degree.  I worked at DePaul University at the International Human Rights Law Institute for thirteen months, then I worked at educational services for five years in the finance department.

After that, the revolution in Syria started.  This was when I couldn’t focus on anything else, other than Syria, so I had to really try to find something that related to Syria.  This was when we came together, everyone across the United States who was talking about the revolution and wanted to do something.  We came together and did the first fundraising in Chicago, in June, 2011.  This was when refugees started to come to the camp in Turkey (closer to the Turkish border, actually, it’s still on Syrian land), and I was responsible for finding an organization to fund-raise through.
My time is completely dedicated to the Syrian Forum, because now it’s my cause in the job.  I’m involved, also, with the community Islamic Center of Naperville, for their political efforts and I’m involved with the Scouts, for my kids.  I’m on the Scouts committee, and I joined the Girl Scouts two years ago because of my daughter, so I’m the cadet leader and my son also joined Scouts.  So, I’m involved with different things for the kids, and this is my cause–there’s nothing in this life other than this.  Sometimes we have to do some activities that do not relate to the nonprofits, so I do this as a personal thing for me, not as an operations manager for the Syrian Forum.  I’m also involved with Amnesty International; I’m the country specialist for Lebanon, actually, but I do more with Syria.


What prepared me for the revolution, I think, was my personal suffering.  When I came all the way from Syria with my ex-husband, I didn’t know anything here, I didn’t know anybody, and I had my kids.  There was domestic violence, it happened a few times and then the third time I called the police.  It was very difficult for me.  Coming from Syria, I didn’t have to do anything by myself, I always had the support of my family.  I’m the only girl, actually, so someone could always do something for me, so I didn’t have to take responsibility for anything.  So coming here, having the responsibility of my two kids, having this situation with my ex-husband, I suffered a lot until I became independent–I didn’t even know how to cash a check.


I think people don’t see the importance of participating, and they don’t see that they can do something.  They say, “What can we do?  We know it’s bad, but what can we do?”  Some people say, “Oh, it’s bad in Burma, it’s bad in there, why should we care about Syria?”  They don’t see the importance.  I don’t know how we can bring them forward, to be honest.  I wish I knew.  Other than the help of everyone who cares a little bit [we need them] to talk to their community, and to bring them forward.  We alone, we cannot do it, so we need everyone to own it, and to bring their own circle.”

Scroll to Top