I am a lecturer at the University of Essex in the Department of Economics, where I have completed my MSc and Ph.D. Before moving to England, I was a member of the Syrian National Team for years. Swimming has always been my passion. Even during cold mornings in winter when I was 9 years old, I have never missed a session.
Nobody knew how happy the morning breezes made me feel, or the sensation of the water carrying me up while all my troubles seemed to sink down, the awareness filling my body when moving in the water, the vibes rushing in me when breaking my own record. I have always felt as safe in water as at home.
Unfortunately, with my Ph.D. workload and a recurrent knee injury, I could not fit swimming into my life for 5 years. After completing my Ph.D., I felt a big void in my heart and the need to reconnect with my passion for swimming. Maybe, I was unconsciously looking for a safe place while knowing that my home Syria was not safe anymore. In the end, at home I was always swimming and swimming in England is still a rare part of home I can carry with me.
Today, I have a dream that I want to share with you. I am dreaming of peace in Syria. I am dreaming that people will not need to risk their lives anymore to be safe; that I will be able to talk to my mum not only on the phone; that all Syrians can not only live in present, but also plan their future.
I feel very lucky that I did not have to go through a dangerous journey as I travelled to England in 2012, just after completing my Bachelor degree to study for a Master’s degree. But having had this unique chance I can no longer stand idle while those compatriots less lucky than me risk their lives everyday crossing the sea seeking refuge in Europe. I cannot stop the war, but I can swim. I can share the perils that my people pass through by swimming the English Channel and through it share my dreams, voice, and hopes.
Swimming across the channel is highly symbolic to me for many reasons and a metaphor of what many of us have gone through in the past few years. I will swim in the opposite direction of the flows of refugees that came to the UK to show the incoherence of the War and send a message of peace. Taking this direction is optional for me and, by doing so, I want to bring hope to all refugees that they will have the option one day of choosing the direction they want to take, both while travelling but also in life. Waves can go up to two meters and crossing them will represent the emotions I went through all these years while facing uncertainty regarding the safety of my relatives. While swimming, I will be deported by the current and I will have to accept events and put efforts to overcome them. This will represent the resilience of many refugees in the face of adversity.
Zeina will be swimming the English Channel on 19 August 2019. She is raising money for Sawa for Development & Aid to support children in refugee camps in Lebanon.
Here is her Just Giving Page if you would like to make a contribution: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/zeina-alsharkas
See below Zeina using our orange tow float while training for this challenge.