Hi everyone! Today on the blog, I’ll be interviewing Rita Audi, a 19 year old writer and activist from Canada. Rita has recently published her book My Grandmother Nadia, a true story about her own grandmother’s plight as a syrian refugee. It’s a harking tale of hardship, resilence, and also raises awarness and money for a fantastic cause.
RIYA: Hi Rita! It’s so nice to get to speak to you today! Those of you who are reading: if you don’t know me, I’m Riya Cyriac, the writer of this blog. I do posts on writing, motivation, activism, and a lot more, but enough about me!
Rita, tell us about yourself!
RITA: Hi, I’m Rita. I’m 19 years old and I’m from Toronto, Canada. I came here eight years ago and I was born in Syria. All my family is Syrian, and I decided to write this book about my grandmother’s experience as a refugee. During the pandemic, when school was over, I had some time to talk to my grandmother more, and she told me her whole story. Over my years here in Canada I was really involved with a lot of charity and like nonprofit organizations. I thought I’d start something on my own, and this was for me a way to raise awareness about the refugee crisis while fundraising for a family that’s really in need in Syria right now. I decided to write the book about my grandmother’s experiences and share them. The support that I got was amazing and I just want to thank everybody.
RIYA: I mean the mission is absolutely beautiful and the fact that you’re supporting this family is wonderful. Tell us more about this family.
RITA: The family it lives in a city in northwestern Syria. They haven’t been safe over there. They’ve been hit with a lot of airstrikes and other disasters in the region. Obviously there are a lot of families in need over there. One of them is a family of one grandmother and 19 grandchildren. She had six sons and all of them died in the war. They left 19 grandchildren behind, and she had to take care of all of them they have basically almost no any sort of basic necessities, no money at all. I was connected with her through a photographer who I found on Instagram send her phone number and started talking to her. I just decided to dedicate all the money from the book to this family.
RIYA: It’s such an important cause and the proceeds are actually directly helping somebody. Everyone should definitely buy this book. Let’s talk more about the writing process because this is a writing blog right? You wrote it really fast like in what, three months? What motivated you to write that fast?
RITA: Yeah, so I wrote it in about, say like two to three weeks, and it was very quick, because I started to keep those to two to three weeks just for this book. It is short, though it is 41 pages . Right now I’m working on expanding it. I dedicated like a few hours every day and just wrote it. It was challenging because my grandmother would tell me the story in Arabic and I would write it in English, and obviously when you’re like switching between languages, it’s hard. I wanted to share her voice in the book, so there were a lot of times I rewrote a scene to ensure l her experiences were being shared accurately. That was sort of my experience I wrote it. I edited it a few times and then the online publishing was pretty simple. I did it myself on Amazon. It was published by July 3.
RIYA: Yeah, I mean I’m excited to read it! I haven’t got the chance yet. Have you always been interested in writing, like writing stories biographies or was it something that you know pops in your head because you’ve heard your grandmother’s story?
RITA: So, I never thought I’d be writing any sort of memoir or book anything like that. I enjoy creative writing in general, but I’ve never done anything this big. When my grandmother went through a refugee journey, I always thought I want your story in some form or another, but never in the format of the book. But when she started explaining all the details. I thought that there were too many details and too many experiences to not share fully it. At first I thought maybe we should do a blog, but a blog seemed too short for what she went through, so I chose to do a book. Other than that, I don’t really have experience with book writing.
RIYA: I mean, that’s great. You spoke about expanding this book. With the kind of traction you’ve recieved, do you think you’re going to write not just more stories about Syrian refugees and your grandmother, but also biographies for other people that needed to have their stories told as well?
RITA: My focus right now is to expand this book that I have right now it’s 41 pages, and I want to make it a physical copy, and I’m working with a few people who have like sort of connections in the publication industry and hopefully make it a book by the end of this year. That’s in the works. I was actually on a radio interview with a radio station in the UK and a few people were calling in asking about a project to amplify teen voices from Syria. Another thing I had in mind was to begin collecting voices of youth in Syria and publishing their stories as well. Ever since I published this book I just became really focused on the issue in Syria in general, and I am trying to set up a bunch of initiatives to help specific people in Syria because I found that that’s the most effective way right now for me as one person to help people instead of just focusing on a larger community. If I focus on one family and provide them, or one person and provide him or her with any sort of necessities and things like that it would help a lot better in the long run.
RIYA: I’m excited to read that teen story that you mentioned! I’ve been very interested in the situation in Syria, I never really understood it and a lot of people that read my blog probably also don’t understand exactly what’s going on there, so do you want to talk a bit more about you know the situation in Syria and your initiatives?
RITA: Syria, just a quick summary, is in its 10th year of war. The war started in March 2010. Ever since, there have been all sorts of violent outbreaks in the country, everything from torture killings to chemical attacks and apartment bombings and airstrikes.
Right now there are about 6 million internally displaced people, as well as around 5 million who are refugees outside of the country. Syria is the has the biggest population of displaced forcibly displaced people in the world right now I’m in this era in general. When the Syrian war started, there was a lot of media focus on it but as the years went on and especially it’s been a decade now a lot of attention has shifted away to other things, which is you know it makes sense but at the same time we can’t keep, we can’t forget what the people are going through over there. Obviously, all kinds of people are struggling everyone living they’re struggling and to add on to that recently, the currency dropped dramatically drastically. Like people can’t afford to buy meat anymore and the average salary right now is extremely low, about like $15 a month. So, because of that, I feel like a personal connection to everything that’s happening over there. I used to live in the country and I can’t imagine still being there right now.
Right now I’m trying to work with an organization. I want to focus on youth and children especially education because I think they are the future leaders and they are the ones who are going to bring peace into this country so through their change making so that’s sort of where I’m heading to headed towards.
RIYA: That’s fantastic. A lot of times, as young people, we feel like we can do anything right because you either have money or influence. Obviously, you’ve done so much already at such a young age to help this crisis, so what advice can you give other young people that want to give what everything they can to this like cause?
RITA: I also used to always think what can I as one person here in Canada do all the way back there or anywhere around the world. When you start to shift your thinking, it starts to change your mindset. I think sometimes people are very overwhelmed by the “here all these big issues internationally”, and they don’t know what where they can start. My best advice is to just start with one person. If you change one person’s life, it’s going to everything to that one person, and then they will go on to change other people’s lives and that’s I guess my best advice for me. The reason that I was able to connect with the families obviously because I knew the language and I knew the culture, so I was able to find the best way to spend the money to talk to the family and communicate with them, but for people who are let’s say you don’t have that as well. You are able to make change in any way you can.
You don’t need to feel like you need to solve everything in the world, even if you solve one small thing and you help little in one thing that’s that still means a lot so I would say find credible organizations that you can already join. You don’t always need to start your own initiative. There are so many great organizations out there that you can join and you can make a really good impact in, and other but if you just wanted to know more on a smaller scale fine and just donate for example, just find organizations that are credible and report where the money’s going. That’s the best way for you to know that the help that you want is going exactly where it’s going, it’s meant to go.
RIYA: What are some organizations that you recommend people donate to or volunteer with?
RITA: I’m part of Girl Up. Girl Up is a UN initiative to empower girls around the world, and fights for gender equality. I’ve been involved with them for a few years, and they’re just an amazing organization. You can join anywhere around the world or you can start your own club. If you don’t have one in your area so that’s the one I really recommend grow up, especially if you’re very passionate already but for let’s say this year in crisis if you want to make a donation, I really recommend an organization called Syria Relief and Development, and also Molham Volunteering Team. These are the two that I recommend for Syria. If you want to look into other countries you want to donate, just do your research on these organizations.
If you’re interested in Girl Up, we are trying to expand right now, so if you’re in Canada, look at our social media pages.
RIYA: In your opinion, like, at first was it hard to get people to pay attention to your book and it’s mission?
RITA: I remember the first time that I put out my video on July 3. The book was pre order. I left my phone off for a few like hours. When I came back, there was such a tremendous amount of support and people messaging me and even people asking how they can donate more how they can help the family more. The fact that a lot of people really want to help and they really were supported with the idea really encouraged me in general. I start having people like reach out to do maybe some sort of feature or an interview or things like that and that just made me so humbled, I mean, I never thought, you know, I thought this book would sell like 10 copies.
It did receive a lot of support and hopefully it just goes up from here. I really, really hope that the message is heightened and amplified throughout the months to come. We’re almost at the one month now so hopefully in the next month, it will also get more a bit more attraction.
RIYA: You’re so amazing! Where can we find you on Instagram or anywhere socials and where can we buy your book!
RITA: I am on Instagram @rita.audi. If you also go on my book on Amazon My Grandmother Nadia: The Journey Of A Refugee. You also find my author page over there so you can definitely follow me there too.
And I mostly other than that I mostly also use Facebook, or you can just email me, firstname.lastname@example.org.
RIYA: Once again, Rita, thank you so much for coming on the blog, you’re an inspiration and such an amazing person dedicated to such an important cause. Everyone, go get My Grandmother Nadia: The Journey Of A Refugee on Amazon ASAP.
I hope you guys enjoyed this interview!