Malak SAHIONI is an academic, translator, writer and correspondent who works with several regional and international news agencies with a long experience in these fields. She is also a human rights activist. Originally born in Syria, she has also worked with Syrian refugees and championed their causes.
SYRIAWISE asked Dr. Sahioni some questions about her areas of interest and her dedication to serve her fellow Syrians everywhere.
SYRIAWISE: Let’s start with your activism in the area of helping Syrians. How was your experience as a volunteer on Lesbos Island with refugees?
Malak SAHIONI: Undoubtedly, it was a very painful one. I was like the mother, sister, and grieving friend for all the victims who succumbed to the sea. I was a witness to the drowning of many who went searching for a better life by way of rubber boats. This experience made me see how great the Syrian people are. It helped me to see how generous, noble, and long-suffering they can be, as well as how patient and freedom-loving they are. No one can imagine the sacrifices made by parents who sent their young children into the unknown with friends to protect them from the dangers at home.
After this experience, I decided to go around and talk about the tragedy of Syrians (especially the orphaned children) and spread the word about refugees. I visited five cities in Italy and six cities in Turkey. I traveled to Cuba, Mexico, the US, Britain, and Spain to talk about the tragedy of Syrians through videos, photographs, and poems written by poets from all over the world.
“There is no free press because the freedom of the media depends on who is behind the funding, in all countries, not only in the Arab ones”Malak SAHIONI
SYRIAWISE: What stories or moments would you like to share with us from that experience?
Malak SAHIONI: After learning that some of the Greek Coast Guard refrained from rescuing boats even when they heard the sound of whistles at night, I asked the refugees to tell me when the boats would leave Turkey because a lot of those who stayed behind had the phone numbers of friends and family members on the boats, and were monitoring their movements. So, when someone told me that a boat had gone out, I stayed awake and did not sleep. I was staying in a Greek hotel in front of the sea and when I heard the whistles, I called the Coast Guard and told them that I was in charge of an organization working to resettle refugees in an EU state. And so it happened that when I told them that a boat was asking for help, they would rush to their rescue. This usually happened at 2 or 3 am. What was beautiful was that I would often meet the new arrivals in the morning and get their phone numbers so that I could continue to monitor their progress as well.
SYRIAWISE: What challenges have you faced in the field of media and how have you dealt with them?
Malak SAHIONI: The only challenge that I faced, and every free person working in media faces as well, is your acceptance of the policeman in your head that you allow to control your mind. There is no free press because the freedom of the media depends on who is behind the funding, in all countries, not only in the Arab ones. For example, the war on Gaza removed masks and scandalized regimes that claim to adhere to human rights.
“I also tried to introduce Spanish culture to Syria by creating a publishing house in Damascus which I called ‘Don Quixote’ and opening a gallery there under the same name with an exhibition about Don Quixote’s character”Malak SAHIONI
SYRIAWISE: Could you please tell us about your activism in the domain of culture and spreading community awareness to other arenas?
Malak SAHIONI: I am a Syrian citizen who loves Syria. When I came to Madrid, I found no cultural activity, neither in the embassy nor in the Syrian community that had been established there. I found that the best way to introduce the Arab community in Spain to my homeland was to export some of its heritage, culture, artworks, and handicrafts. And I was working alone without asking anyone for help at all. My only assistant was my son who was six years old at the time.
I used to organize the Arab Book Fair annually in addition to the art exhibitions that I was holding in municipal lounges, the Egyptian Institute for Islamic Studies, and the Syrian Cultural Center. All this activity was to introduce Syria and its culture to the world. I was a reliable reference and source for all things related to Syria for Spanish media throughout Spain. I was a member of the International Press Club, the European Press Club, the Foreign Journalists Club, and the Arab Journalists’ Club of Spain.
On the flip side, I also tried to introduce Spanish culture to Syria by creating a publishing house in Damascus which I called “Don Quixote” and opening a gallery there under the same name with an exhibition about Don Quixote’s character. In addition, I invited journalists to Syria so that they could experience it in person instead of relying on information published in the press.
SYRIAWISE: Can you talk about your writings and translations from Spanish into Arabic or vice versa?
Malak SAHIONI: The first work I wrote in Spanish was about the Virgin Mary in the Quran in 1991. Then a university professor asked me to write research on the history of ascension and mysticism in Islam for his MA students. That was followed by the translation of a book by a writer from Argentina.
Later I began translating books from the Spanish Ministry of Culture into Arabic because the Ministry provides financial assistance to those who translate Spanish books into other languages. I translated about thirty books from Spanish into Arabic. I also translated some books from Arabic into Spanish.
“We have big hopes for salvation by getting rid of the brutal dictatorial regime and all the mercenaries who promote the corruption of the country”Malak SAHIONI
I’m currently in the process of translating a 650-page poetry anthology for the poet Antonio Gamoneda. At the same time, I am writing my autobiography which will be published in Arabic, Spanish, and English. I am also translating a novel by the Syrian writer Ibtisam Tracy titled Caligula in Damascus into Spanish of course. This is in addition to the translation of poems and articles by Arab and Hispanic friends.
SYRIAWISE: What is your vision for the future of culture and arts in Syria?
Malak SAHIONI: We have big hopes for salvation by getting rid of the brutal dictatorial regime and all the mercenaries who promote the corruption of the country. When the homeland is liberated, we will turn prisons into public parks, libraries, theaters, and fine art centers. We will transform security and intelligence branches into schools to teach languages and how to play all types of musical instruments. When we liberate Syria, the heinous regime will be replaced by the institutions of civil society which will be the first base of resurrection and reconstruction.