Samar Orwa, a 23 year old medical student at the University of Groningen, makes it clear that there is no easy place to start when it comes to her story. Although she was born in Omdurman, in North Sudan and speaks fondly of the nine years she spent there, it is clear that she was made in the Netherlands.
She picks out an autumn evening in 2004 to highlight this. Ten year old Samar, her twin sister Sahar and their parents are nervously sat waiting outside the principal’s office at Basisschool de Springplank, in Sint-Oedenrode. Another student has accused the twins of bullying. She remembers her mother’s tears and her father’s disappointed tone, this is clearly an issue the family are not accustomed to.
Although she can laugh looking back at the memory of the principal’s office now, the experience would help to shape Samar’s life. It taught her the importance of compassion and equality, and explain her limitless energy for humanitarian events and projects, a topic she could talk about for hours.
Thirteen years later and Samar has already been involved with many groups that raise awareness for sex trafficking victims, refugees and feminist societies, reiterating just how important human rights are to her. She is most proud of her recent efforts to help organise the NotATarget campaign in Groningen, an extension of Doctors Without Borders, a Nobel Prize winning international group committed to providing emergency aid to those in dire need across the world.
A huge smile breaks out on Samar’s face every time she discusses her family, friends, or even the weather back in Sudan. Her usual jovial attitude turns more serious whenever her father Orwa is brought up, and it is clear he has had a huge impact on her life.
In 1998, Orwa left Sudan for the Netherlands as a political refugee, a rebellious activist fleeing from President Omar al-Bashir’s autocratic regime. Despite being just four years old at the time, she remembers being woken up in the early hours of the morning, dazed and hurriedly kissing her father goodbye, not knowing at the time they would spend the next five years apart.
Samar explains that her father used to be a pilot, and this would soothe her worries as a child. “Every plane that flew over our house, my sister and I always thought he was the one flying it.” She is now a proud member of the Standing Committee on Refugees and Peace (SCORP), a testament to her father’s bravery all those years ago.
For the next five years, her mother Samira would raise five children alone in Sudan. Samar describes her mother as a strong and independent woman, but admits it must have been a huge challenge for her. It brought the children closer together, and explains Samar’s inseparable relationship with her twin, Sahar.
Meanwhile in Sint-Oedenrode, Orwa delivered newspapers and worked in a butchery, spending every spare minute of his day calling his family and sending them letters or gifts from the Netherlands. “Because of these sacrifices, it never felt like Dad wasn’t there,” Samar adds.
The family was determined to reunite in the Netherlands. Samar remembers the excitement of that September morning in 2003 well and not even the biting, autumn cold of the Netherlands could curb her enthusiasm. “My dad didn’t tell us to bring warm clothes, my mum was furious!” Samar pauses to laugh. “And he was two hours late to the airport!”
She takes solace from the fact ‘home’ to her can mean both Sudan and the Netherlands. “The rest of my family are still in Sudan, but I am always happy to be here [the Netherlands] because here is where my life is.”
Samar now dedicates much of her time to humanitarian societies, describing her work as “normal things anyone should do.” She admits most of her selfless nature comes from her parents’ commitment to raise the family with an emphasis on treating everyone fairly and kindly. The Orwas still insist on sending anything they can spare back to family and friends still in Sudan.
Samar has lived in Groningen for the past three years, studying at the University’s Medical Centre and aims to specialise in pediatric care. This is something she has aimed for from her earliest days at school. It seems fitting that those in the medical profession commit their lives to helping others and this is the path Samar has chosen to pursue.
She started sending e-mails and contacting guest speakers for October’s NotATarget event as early as May. The group’s petition to stop the bombing of hospitals in warzones has already garnered more than 250 signatures. Despite all the stressful evenings, she insists that “in the end it’s very rewarding to see so many people learn about such an important topic.”
It is now the 11th of October, and the morning of the NotATarget event. Between her last-minute preparation, Samar revisits the evening in the principal’s office thirteen years ago. Despite everything she and her family have endured in life, the moment that burns strongest in Samar’s memory is the one question the girls asked each other that night.
“We did this?” This feeling of wrongdoing has never escaped her. To this day, she cites her family’s teachings on right from wrong as the main reason behind this piercing guilt, and also her pursuit of a humanitarian life.
At the event itself, a crowd of twenty are gripped by the stories of NotATarget representatives, too engrossed to even realise they have overrun by ten minutes. Samar’s smile has returned and she is busy receiving congratulatory hugs and handshakes, her night has clearly been a resounding success.