The Salems have also been active in spreading awareness and raising funds in the Boston area. They’ve met with advisers for senators John Kerry and Scott Brown, to discuss humanitarian issues and their relatives’ experiences living in the embattled country. Kerry adviser Amy Kerrigan told the Globe she passed information from the meeting along to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
The Salems have worked with rebel-supportive organizations, including the Karam Foundation, Syrian Sunrise Foundation, and Syrian American Medical Society, to hold Boston-area events to raise funds and spread awareness. Last month, they offered their Canton town house for free to a Syrian family that had fled to the United States from Aleppo.
A Syrian activist in New Hampshire, who asked that her name not be published for safety reasons, has worked with Salem on several fund-raisers and rallies. She said Salem takes on many roles, from moderating events and giving speeches to organizing behind the scenes.
Some of the events Salem has helped organize are aimed at educating the rest of America about the Syrian revolutionary movement. But their efforts can only go so far.
“Sometimes people ask me, ‘So what’s happening in Syria?’ ” Zeina Salem said with an exasperated laugh. “They know something happened, but they don’t really know.”
“Sometimes people ask me ‘Are you Sunni or Alawi?’ or they ask if it’s about Saudi Arabia versus Iran,” Omar Salem said. “They are forgetting the people there, the Syrian people striving to live their lives.”
Those people include some of the couple’s closest relatives. Omar Salem’s parents, sisters, and grandparents are among his relatives still living in Syria, most in his hometown of Damascus.
Zeina’s hometown, Homs, has been dubbed “the capital of the revolution,” and has been under siege by the government’s army for more than a year. As a result, most of her family has fled to other countries, including Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan. Her parents moved a few months ago and are now taking refuge in Dubai.
The Syrian government, backed by its army, state-run media, and some civilians, has been persistent in labeling rebels and opposition activists as “terrorists” with ties to enemy countries.
The United Nations has tried multiple times to broker a cease-fire between the army and the rebel fighters, and to help the country organize a new government, to no avail.
Last Friday, the UN reported that 11,000 Syrians fled to neighboring countries to escape harsh living conditions and the fighting between rebels and government forces.
In a recent interview with a Russian TV channel, Assad showed he had no plans to cede power to a transitional government. “I am Syrian. I was made in Syria, I have to live in Syria and die in Syria,” he said.
While Assad digs in, Salem continues to toil on his night shift, working with Syrian activists through social media sites, and planning more events to aid the fight for democracy in his homeland.
“What we are doing may be a drop in the ocean,” he said, “but I know there are many drops.”
Emily Files can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.