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Syria Conflict Hits Close To Home For Pinecrest Doctor Planning Benefit Concert

Dr. Hadi Yaziji
Dr. Hadi Yaziji

For many South Florida residents, the conflict between the Syrian government and rebel groups seems far off. After all, the country is about 6,500 miles from South Florida and the conflict is one of many different international conflicts shaping U.S. foreign policy and politics.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMhG-K20E54

But for Dr. Hadi Yaziji, a Pinecrest resident and pathologist, the conflict is very close -- psychologically if not geographically.

Dr. Hadi Yaziji
Credit Kate Stein / WLRN
Dr. Hadi Yaziji

Yaziji grew up in Damascus and lived in Syria until his mid-20s, when he came to the United States to complete his medical residencies. Many of his family members and friends are there today.

"As the years progressed and the situation got progressively worse, I felt like, OK, I can no longer sit and watch and listen and get angry and do nothing about it," Yaziji told WLRN. "It takes a significant part of my conscience, and I felt like I needed to do something."

So Yaziji planned a concert to raise money for Syrians in areas experiencing violence and supply shortages. He reached out to the internationally acclaimed folk band the Sultans of String and the band agreed to donate a concert during its current South Florida tour. The benefit concert takes place this Thursday, Jan. 12 at Pinecrest Gardens.

Yaziji spoke with WLRN about his family's experiences and his vision for using music to bring together Syrians and Americans.

[Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

WLRN: What has this concert planning process been like for you? 

YAZIJI: Very interesting. I’ve been actually checking the time to see how much time I spend on a daily basis. And I would say it’s between four and five hours every day for the last six months. And now it includes my family, my wife, my children. Yesterday we went door-to-door with my 13-year-old. And I couldn’t be any prouder of her just knocking on doors and delivering the fliers.

I made a decision that, listen, I need to do something. And I’m just one person, you know. But if you can engage the community, especially the local community, in a way that is non-denominational, in a way that actually could generate funds, these funds can be used to help victims of the war.

WLRN: Who will receive the funds?

YAZIJI: I looked at several options. I settled on one option that is a church that has significant presence in Syria, but also has significant presence in the U.S., which is the Presbyterian Church.

I’m a secular person, by the way. 

WLRN: It's interesting that you started out looking for a secular arts- and music-based benefit and you wound up with the Presbyterian Church.

YAZIJI: There are secular organizations, like the United Nations Refugees Organization, and they do great work. But the problem is that there’s so much red tape and bureaucracy. Sometimes there's a delay by a whole year for the funds to make it there. And then there are administrative overhead costs that could sometimes be substantial, whereas the church has a lot of volunteers who are just donating their time. And that's the beauty of it -- there are a lot of volunteers and very few staff on the ground. So it makes it much more efficient for every dollar you donate.

WLRN: Tell me more about the art component of this benefit process.

YAZIJI: The idea actually went through multiple iterations. My original plan was to have children and young adults exchange musical experiences between the U.S. and Syria. This is still my intention at some point, but it takes more than one person.

So I am making a proposition to fellow citizens. If you feel sad or angry or bad about what happens in Syria, if it affects you, if you feel like you need to help, I'm creating an opportunity for you: Just buy the tickets.

I'm hopeful to expand this idea to include not only performing art but visual art.

I’m a simple doctor. I’m not an artist; I’m close to a robot, actually. But both my children are musicians, and my wife is an artist and my feeling is that there is no artist who doesn’t want something good to come out of their art.

WLRN: It maybe seems like the whole country of Syria is a war zone. What’s the situation really like there right now?

YAZIJI: I can give you the example of my own family and my classmates from middle school and high school. The majority of them live in Damascus. Some of them live in other cities on the western side of Syria like Tartus or Latakia. These places generally speaking are safe, although as you get out of the metropolitan areas usually there are suburban pockets where militants are taking hold. Occasionally you hear artillery and rarely you would hear airplanes flying by to bomb these targets.

Life in general goes on as usual. People go to work and they go to school. But it’s not a normal life. My family and friends tell me, for example, the electricity’s more frequently cut off than not. So they are used to living in 

the dark. And sometimes my mom sends a WhatsApp voice message saying, 'Well, OK, it's 9 p.m. right now. I'm not sleepy, but we just lost the power so I'm checking off. Please don't call me.'

In terms of safety, it's as close to normal as possible. But it's not a normal life. And battle areas are a completely different story, where people are struggling to survive, to stay alive.

So you have a collective post traumatic stress disorder of the entire country. There is no one community that is spared of this.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

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