Rania was a kindergarten teacher in a city in Syria named Raqqa, and was married to Zaza – a lovely professional chef who was working in Saudi Arabia. She was living a simple life in the beautiful city, overlooking the Euphrates Rive, and gave birth to her only son – Taim, in 2012. As Rania and Zaza welcomed a new life in their family, none of them would have guessed that it was also the beginning of a battle that ended up taking countless lives away.
Less than a year after Taim was born, things changed quickly in Rania’s city that was once vibrant and peaceful. Shootings & explosions started occurring frequently, and the city was no longer safe.
One morning, Rania was walking and carrying Taim to get a vaccination. While she was on the way, an explosion happened nearby – the impact was so strong that it threw her to the ground, causing Taim to fall out from her arms. With a mixture of fear and shock, Rania quickly picked Taim up and rushed home before getting any vaccination. This incident turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because Rania later found out that many children who took the vaccination on that day ended up very ill, and many of them died because the vaccination in this conflict area had already expired.
“That was when I knew it was time to leave.”
Being so close to losing her son made Rania realised that Raqqa was no longer a safe place for her to raise her child. At that time, Zaza was still working in Saudi Arabia, but was not able to get approval to bring his family over. Seeing how critical the situation had become, Zaza and Rania decided to leave Syria. Zaza was offered a job in Malaysia by someone and made the decision to flee to this country.
Rania and her family arrived Malaysia in January 2013, just before the serious Raqqa battle broke out in March 2013. However, shortly after they settled down in Malaysia, the family found out that the job offer was a scam, and they were left penniless and homeless in a foreign country. Zaza and Rania were feeling extremely helpless with their son who was barely a-year-old. Thankfully, a kind Samaritan reached out to Rania’s family after Zaza posted up a notice on Facebook seeking for help, and assisted them to find a shelter.
Years went on, and the family was still struggling to make ends meet. Not being able to work legally in Malaysia made it hard for Zaza to get a job despite having 14 years of experience as a chef. Zaza was on the verge of giving up, until The Picha Project found this amazing family through the referral of NAWEM.
After hearing about Zaza, the Picha team visited the family, and was charmed by their hospitality. Zaza’s positive attitude and amazing food won our hearts almost immediately, and we decided to have them on board with us.
Since then, Zaza and Rania put in all their effort into Picha, making sure that they prepare the best meals that they could for all their clients. They saw Picha as a business of their own, and they truly give in their all to build Picha as a team. Their determination and diligence really impressed us, and we were always inspired to see how hardworking this family was.
This was why it wasn’t a surprise to any of us when Zaza’s Kitchen ended being the best-selling kitchen in Picha Project. Every month, their sales are stable, allowing them to finally live without having to worry if they could put food on the table everyday. The family started living a normal life, and we were extremely happy to see their progress. Taim was also growing up healthily and was ready to join pre-school.
However, life is always unexpected. After joining Picha for a 10 months, finally having a more stable life – Zaza suddenly fell extremely ill in February 2017 and was admitted into the hospital. Initially, everyone thought that it wasn’t anything serious, until Zaza kept going in and out of hospital several times, and his health deteriorated rapidly. Many tests were done on Zaza, and the doctors suspected that he had cancer. Rania was extremely heart-broken, but she had to stay strong for her husband and her son.
In the months when Zaza was hospitalised, Rania was torn apart having to take care of her husband, and leaving her son behind with her friends. It was extremely tough for her as Taim would always cry and beg for Rania, but she had no choice but to leave the crying child. As a mother, it broke her heart into pieces, but she has never once complained or said that she’s tired.
Day and night, Rania stayed in the hospital by Zaza’s side. Every time we asked if she’s tired, she replied us with the brightest smile, saying “Zaza ok, me ok!” She insisted that she wasn’t tired, and always put up the strongest side of herself in front of Zaza. We only saw her washing her face or looking tired when she walked out of Zaza’s ward. But when they’re together, she’s always smiling. We even caught them flying kisses to each other.
3 months after Zaza was hospitalised, his organs started shutting down, and we lost him completely on 8th of May. Rania broke into the most heart-breaking cry that we have ever experienced.
It was an extremely painful period for Rania as she just lost her mother who was back in Syria 4 days before Zaza passed away. And towards the end of the month Rania lost her brother and her nephews to an explosion back in Syria. Within a month, Rania lost 8 of her family members – people who are close to her heart and mean the world to her.
Words can never describe the pain that Rania had gone through, but Rania showed us strength that we have never seen before. She showed us the strength of a mother and what the power of love could do. Within less than two weeks, Rania came back cooking with Picha Project, and was ready to strive again.
Rania took time to grieve, but she did not let that swallow her life up. “All for the future of Taim,” she said. Even as a single mother now, Rania makes sure that Taim is growing up healthily with a good education.
If you get to meet Rania today, you can never tell that this bright, vibrant and positive woman had gone through such painful experience. Rania is an inspiration to many of us, because she showed us the meaning of strength.
She showed us a strength so great that it could conquer death. She taught us that it is possible to move on and strive for a better future, no matter what has happened in the past. Most importantly, Rania and her late husband taught us that we can always & should always give back, no matter how much life has taken away from us.