Inspirational lectures about a journey from the world's worst prisons to Sweden

I grew up in a small village in northern Syria, together with a bustling family of siblings, uncles, aunts and a clutter of cousins. When my mother would call my big brother in for dinner, another five cousins sharing the same name would toddle in - and of course gather round the table as well.
When I was only 15 years old the arab spring shook dictatorships around the Mediterranean. I hurried out to join the crowds in demonstrations on the streets of Banyas. This was the first time I was thrown in political prison.
At the age of seventeen, in my last year of high school, I was again arrested for my political views together with three of my cousins. We were tortured, our nails were pulled out, we were hung up in the ceilings and electrocuted and mutilated. But the worst part was that we were forced to turn on eachother.
Three years of constant relocation to various prisons around Syria followed. My cousins died shortly after we arrived in one of the most feared prisons in the world: Sednaya, in the outskirts of Damascus. I was dying from malnutrition and tuberculosis when my mother managed to bribe an army official for my release.
During my time in captivity, both my father and two of my brothers had been executed during an  attack on our village. The rest of my family managed to flee to Turkey.

At the time of my release I was a walking skeleton, weighing only 34 kilograms. Mother decided that I had to leave the country to get treatment and my little brother Ali, at the time only eleven, was chosen to aid me in my voyage to safety.

Together we made our way by boat to Greece, and further through Europe, finally after a month of travel, ending up in Malmö where I was immediately hospitalized for tuberculosis and malnourishment.

The future, however, looks bright. I have just finished Swedish highschool and am now pressing on to University studies. My brother and I were early on introduced to Swedish society.  Thanks to staying with a Swedish foster family, we have learned all about an entirely new culture, a secularized society and a new language.

I have held countless lectures across the nordics and the united states (USA) about my experiences. I continue to hold talks in both private companies, schools, and municipalities around the world. I see it as my mission to bare witness to not only the atrocities of the Syrian war, but also the optimism and will to life that has by necessity stemmed from it.


1. University Of Whispers Our time in the cramped cells was endless. But we could whisper. In silence, we began to teach each other.
Doctors shared knowledge on medicine. Lawyers described legislature. Someone knew smatterings of English.We formed university of whispers.

2. Be A Leader:  I was the youngest. But it became my job to mark the dead. A number was to be written on the forehead of every deceased.
And I soon realised that, by slightly altering the numbers, I could have a chance to save inmates. I took on a task that could cost me my life.
But this also gave me courage. My fellow prisoners trusted me. I became a leader of sorts.

3. Trauma As A Drive Force:  I have had sleepless nights, haunted by unthinkable nightmares.
I have knowledge one does not wish to own, experiences I wish to disavow.
But surviving is possible. Viewing survival as a challenge, something that must be done; focusing on the brighter parts of life - it works. This I have learned by now!
I am in love, I will have children, I will live a happy life, I will go on. In spite of everything.

4. Networking & Integration:   When I came to Sweden I had never even shaken hands with a woman I was not related to. But I soon learned that in this country you greet people with a hug, and this applies to women too. When I came to Sweden I lived with the conviction that Jewish people were the enemy and synonymous with the Israeli state. But I soon learned that Jewish people were individuals and that the Israeli government was a political formation.
When I came to Sweden I spoke neither Swedish nor English. Now I speak both fluently + Norwegian.

" You are a role model to us all"
D. Sandberg (BCG)

"It was meeningful. You are a great spokeman"
B. Oberkoetter (Brown University)

"Your Story is truly inspiring and your positive energy is so contagious"
Ch. Elias (LinkedIn) 

" Omar has dedicated his life to imploring the world not to turn a blind eye" Josh Rogin
(The Washington Post)