Cindy Dabbous, Sama Wareh

Photo by Christina O’Connor

Photo by Christina O’Connor

Last November, California-based artist and environmental educator Sama Wareh (right) sat in the makeshift house of a Syrian refugee family as they told her how they had arrived in the cramped, dilapidated basement apartment in Turkey: They were able to flee shortly before the government burned down their home. Wareh gave them rent money before continuing down the border for the next two weeks helping as many refugees as she could, paying their bills and buying groceries.

This year, local entrepreneur Cindy Dabbous (left) of Intentionally Empowered Network is partnering with Wareh to continue reaching out to the more than 2 million Syrian refugees. Dabbous threw a fundraiser earlier this month to help Wareh launch an art program at a refugee school in Lebanon. Dabbous and Wareh, whose families are longtime friends, decided to partner on this project to provide kids with a way to hone artistic skills, a creative outlet and a skill set that could perhaps lead to a business venture.

“If you don’t give them something different to do and just give the kids a sense of normalcy, then what?” says Wareh, who was the guest speaker at the event. “This is going to be what heals them mentally. (War) is all they know. I want them to be a healed group of people who want to rebuild and look forward.”

Dabbous, who is of Syrian descent and has family in Damascus, approached Wareh after the conflict in Syria hit close to home. Her cousin was abducted in Syria; shortly after, her mother travelled there to visit her ailing grandmother.

“I was overridden with worry,” she recalls. “I had to turn that pain into a project.”

“In my community, every other day, you would hear someone sobbing because their house just got bombed, or their uncle got killed or kidnapped,” says Wareh, whose cousin was killed shortly before her trip last year.

While Wareh currently is visiting Lebanon to get the program started, Dabbous will continue to help it thrive by donating a portion of her proceeds from Intentionally Empowered. They are seeking retail partners who may be interested in purchasing the students’ creations. They also hope to establish a community resource center for adults to hone marketable skills.

Wareh’s work also has inspired other on-the-ground projects. Her friend even has founded a nonprofit, For The Unseen, to deliver aid directly to Syria.

“You are never going to leave healing the place; you are barely making a dent,” Wareh says. “But the message that you are carrying that people are coming to help, that right there alone speaks volumes.”

The pair hopes that the art program will help set the stage for future peace. “This is not only teaching the kids how to channel their trauma, but it also is teaching them how to become entrepreneurs,” Dabbous says. “My ultimate goal is to empower the youths to learn how to channel their pain and use it as fuel.”

For more information about Intentionally Empowered, visit To donate and to read stories about refugees that Wareh has met on her journeys, visit