Six years ago, Nadia Alawa was a full-time mother whose days were spent driving her eight children to sports games and homeschooling them for exams. In 2011, her quiet life in the sleepy town of East Hempstead, New Hampshire ended with the eruption of a devastating civil war in Syria, her father’s homeland.

 As Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s government began executing Syrian protesters, Alawa, who was raised in Denmark and converted to Islam, followed the violence closely on Facebook and other social media. In an email correspondence with the Justice, she wrote, “I was very moved by the actions of 13-year-old Hamza Al-Khateeb who was arrested for smuggling in baby milk to infants living under siege. He got severely tortured and killed by the prison guards for refusing to negate his actions of helping others in need. That sacrifice and conviction made a huge impression on me and I couldn’t help but think of his mother and of the mothers of the starving babies and children and I knew I had to find a way to do something.​”

Determined to help in any way possible, Alawa founded NuDay Syria, a non-profit, humanitarian relief organization that sends medical supplies, toys, clothing, food and water to displaced mothers and children in Northern Syria. A big focus of the organization is supplying appliances, such as heaters, to a series of makeshift schools which have cropped up in the North. These schools cater to displaced children, many of whom have not been able to attend school in years. However, Alawa doesn’t simply see Nuday Syria as an NGO that sends relief aid; she understands her task as that of helping Syrian women and children in besieged areas rebuild their lives. She hopes to do this in a way that doesn’t simply view these Syrians as victims of a senseless war but helps them rebuild their lives and maintain their dignity. She characterizes her project as the “mission to empower and aid mothers and children inside Syria with dignity.”

Operating from within Alawa’s home, NuDay Syria has raised several million dollars over the past five years. Alawa has traveled and now sends employees to travel to churches, synagogues and mosques to help fundraise. Many of the donors are individuals who care about the cause and many times, they often choose to give more than once. But fundraising can be an uphill battle. As the question of what foreign policy the U.S. should pursue in Syria loomed large in the 2016 presidential election, Alawa wrote that NuDay saw a noticeable drop in donations. Today, under the Trump Administration, donations have risen again.   

 In a 2015 interview with The Boston Globe, Alawa expressed disbelief at the turn her life had taken, and her  accomplishments along the way. In hindsight, maybe her success as the manager of a thriving non-profit and NGO should have come as little surprise. She explained in an email, “Being a mother and auto didactic learner have given me a lot of skills and the ability to multi-task. NuDay Syria was started as the natural extension of work I was already doing, driven by a passion and proven skills. I did not set up to start a non-profit and started it when I found it would most optimally serve my purpose to bring about change and hope for mothers and children in Syria.”

 While NuDay Syria is not a political organization, Alawa has strong opinions on the conflict in Syria. She believes that targeted airstrikes sanctioned by the U.N. could be successful in demobilizing Assad’s military arsenals. She explained that, “The Syrian non-terrorist opposition has been focused on severe military obstacles and unleveled fighting fields for years while at the same time trying to set up an Interim Syrian Government. More focused efforts on supporting the democratic efforts and teaching negotiation skills to members of this government entity would be ​beneficial while at the same time doing targeted military air strikes. NuDay Syria works in very non-strategic areas for military attacks, so we are not directly targeted or feel unsafe from air attacks.”

 Today, millions of displaced Syrians who have fled their homes are now charged with the task of rebuilding their lives. Understanding the scope of the job ahead, Alawa encouraged everyone to help. She said, “students can help in many ways including setting of collections of needed items such as sanitary pads for women, blankets, and gently used clothing. We also need help with running our schools and would love students getting involved by finding ways to fundraiser for funds or helping apply for grants.” Alawa will be visiting Brandeis today to give a keynote address titled, “One Person at a Time, One Humanity Closer: Tackling the Syrian Crisis From New Hampshire” for an event series hosted by ’DEIS Impact in the Shapiro Campus Center Theater at 7:30 P.M.

 As Syria enters its seventh year of armed conflict with no immediate end in sight, Alawa maintains hope. “​I am not a political analyst, but there is no doubt that we will see peace in Syria. With our efforts for NuDay Syria, all these children that we are reaching will know growing up that the world is a friendly place. The hope we are helping keep alive in their young hearts and minds is going to be the foundation for a democratic and peaceful Syria, I believe this very strongly.​”