‘If you have a will, nothing can be impossible’: A refugee’s will to freedom

Mariela Shaker played the violin and shared her story as a refugee last Tuesday evening to convey the refugee experience and how humanitarian efforts matter.


Ma. Emilia Santander

Mariela Shaker sharing her story.

Ma. Emilia Santander, Managing Editor

International award winning and Syrian refugee Mariela Shaker performed at the Barry and Florence Friedberg Lifelong Learning Auditorium Tuesday evening.

Partnering with the Center for Peace, Justice and Human Rights (PJHR), the goal of the event was for the community to learn about the refugee experience and how humanitarian efforts are necessary.

“If you have a will, nothing can be impossible,” is Shaker’s motto. 

She retold the story of circumstances that led her to flee to the United States. As a child in Syria, she was considered “eccentric” for her interest in furthering her education while others expected girls to stay at home. Shaker’s mother encouraged her to explore diverse areas for her personal growth and find her passion, which she did through music. 

At the age of 12, Shaker convinced her parents to install internet in their home at her own expense because, at the time, it was a resource only available to doctors and teachers. She could only afford 13 hours a month, but she would not waste a single second of it. 

As the years went, Shaker looked for ways of pursuing her education abroad.

In 2013, she was picking up her degree in business administration at the University of Aleppo when bombs were dropped. Several people were killed, including seven of her friends. 

“Nothing is worse than living in a country where your greatest hope is living to see the next morning,” Shaker recalled.

This was one of several events that cemented Shaker’s resolve to leave the country; the opportunity came as a scholarship in Monmouth College, Ill., along with a one year support from a Saudi Arabian sponsor. 

Despite living in safety and receiving her asylum in 2015, the anxiety of danger still remained as her family stayed in Syria. The family doctor traveled the same route as Shaker, but died when the bus was attacked. Her neighbor was killed when her house was bombarded, and places that were familiar to her crumbled. 

Nowadays, Shaker’s parents live in Belgium, her uncles in Venezuela, and her brother remains in Syria.

Shaker went on to found Highams Park Music Academy in London, where she lives with her husband, a Syrian British refugee, and their child. She also advocates for refugee efforts around the world.

“What [being a refugee] means is to be courageous, stubborn and always willing to compromise,” she said. 

Mariela Shaker (left) and Kuo-Pei Cheng-Lin (right) after the event. (Ma. Emilia Santander)

Kuo-Pei Cheng-Lin, an adjunct professor at FAU, enjoyed accompanying Shaker on the piano.

According to Angela Nichols, assistant director of the PJHR, approximately 200 people attended the event. 

Multiple attendees shared that they came because they found a financially inclusive event to be important.

“Florida Atlantic University is very honored to have you come and hopefully you’ll come back again,” said an audience member at the end of the Q&A.

Julian Rey, a senior political science major, attended the event because of the opportunity to hear first hand from someone who had gone through immigration struggles.

The video of the event is available online, and for more PJHR events visit their website or Instagram.

Ma. Emilia Santander is the Managing Editor at the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, you can reach her on Instagram @emilias_ed or email her at [email protected].