Mariam Al Shafie… One in a Million

On Thursday, December 29, we received the shocking news of our beloved colleague Mariam’s death. Mariam Al Shafei was one of the oldest and most dedicated team members at SMEX. She was there when the organization was just at its early beginnings, over eight years ago, and has seen it grow and evolve through the years. It is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to our dear friend. Mariam was the Knowledge and Impact Manager at SMEX and holds a Masters in Chemistry.

Mariam was an extraordinary human being, and indeed, one in a million.

In 2016, Mariam survived a stroke that almost ended her life. At age 28, she was temporarily paralyzed and developed post-stroke Aphasia. Mariam lost the ability to speak, walk, write, and read—and her recovery journey took years of daily struggle and toil. Despite these painful limitations and a heavy load only a few people can bear, Mariam did all she could to overcome her condition and create the best life possible for herself. She continued to work with us, organized workshops for people with post-stroke Aphasia, and wrote extensively about her experience to raise awareness about it. Here you can read Mariam’s thoughts on internet accessibility for people with Aphasia

Below is Mariam’s story in her own words, for only she can tell it.

“On Nov 14 2016, I suffered a massive stroke. Six years ago radically changed my life. But this is also a day that I choose to celebrate. My Re-birthday – a second chance. The date is so deeply cemented in my memory, it’s hard to forget. My journey as a stroke survivor began on that day. I lost the ability to speak and write, which are the most essential tools for my job. I also lost the use of the right side of my body. That stroke left me temporarily paralyzed at age 28. I had taken my health for granted. But my body periodically reminds me that I’m not like everyone else. And although this is a burden, it’s also a gift. I had to re-learn how to walk, write, eat, and take care of myself. I worked hard. But grateful for a Second chance at life. Six years of a changed perspective on the way we should view the world and how we must appreciate even the littlest things.

Everyday is a massive challenge, but I’m here, still trying to fight it.

Thank You 🙏 to everyone that’s helped me, supported me and never turned their backs on me. I could not have gotten through without them, I am much much better and continuing to improve.”

Although gone from this Earth for now, Mariam left an impact on every person who crossed her path, especially our team at SMEX—and this will stay with us forever. We are very lucky to have known her in this lifetime.

A few words from our team…

Mohamad Najem
“Mariam’s actions proved how dedicated and ambitious she was since I first met her and she joined our team in 2014. She is a model in patience and determination and we will never forget her.”

“Mariam is not only a survivor but a role model. With and not despite her chronic illness she persevered and she lived. She taught us determination, survival, endurance, and relentlessness. She always knew that better days were coming and for that she never gave up. 

She worked hard on herself physically and mentally to do the work in parallel with her chronic illness. She was a role model, not only in her workplace, but also among people who have chronic illnesses because she was always spreading awareness constantly about the experiences of people with chronic illnesses and how to deal with it.”

“Mariam inspired me from the moment I met her. She was always ready to take on anything, from a crazy new project at SMEX to the devastating illness that changed her life to conquering her fear of cats. She led us all with her perseverance, and I will miss her.”

“Mariam taught us patience, perseverance, and how to love life.

After the stroke, Mariam was keen to be present at the workplace, she never said no to any request. In parallel, she was active in many groups for people with stroke illness and last year she was happy to work again as a chemistry teacher online.”

“Mariam was one of the strongest people I’ve ever known and working with her was truly a privilege. She lit up the room talking about her cats, her family, or her most recent weekend walk, brimming with pride whenever she broke her previous distance record. As a colleague, Mariam was thoughtful, determined, and compassionate, always looking to help her teammates. I will miss her dearly.”

“Mariam was kind, generous, patient and brave. There was always a smile on her face.

She met the challenges she had in life head on and was a teacher to all of us. She has left this earth too soon. I hope she is rested, and I pray for her and her family.”

“Mariam was a fighter who fought on her own but never forgot to raise awareness in order to help others as well. She was fun, caring, compassionate, and always there for us with a ton of cat videos to cheer us up. She will be greatly missed.”

“Cats were the main topic of most of my conversations with Mariam. She had three cats: Leo, Banana, and Asal; and she doted them as children of her own. We used to share funny pictures and videos of our pets, and exchange tips on how to take care of them. Mariam’s serenity, passion, and composure, albeit all the challenges she had to cope with throughout the years, will always be missed. Rest in power, my friend.”

“I will always remember the laughs I had with Mariam. We always found something to joke about no matter the setting. Mariam loved life, she enjoyed being out and about, doing things out in the world, and simply having a good time. Not only that, but she always made sure to capture her moments of joy. I was always impressed by her willingness to be in photos when most of us did our best to evade being captured! The last time I was with Mariam, she asked me to take her photo while a pink cloud drifted behind her. I’d like to think that her sweet spirit will visit us whenever a pink cloud crosses the sky.”

“I got to know Mariam twice: when I met her, and when I learned her story. I met a kind, friendly and available person, and then I learned about a fighter, a leader and an inspirer. Her unbreakable spirit will leave a mark on every person she has met, and I feel lucky to be one of them.”

“Despite the few times I got the chance to see Mariam, her passion, patience and compassion taught me one of the most important lessons I came across so far, ‘Nothing can conquer a strong will that fell in love with life.’ Her belief in the idea that tomorrow will be better is one of a kind. 

You will always remain in the hearts of who heard, loved and cherished you and your strong dedication to every bit and piece of life!”

“I met Mariam for the first time at SMEX’s office in 2019, she was so busy on her laptop almost all the time. We only had the chance to exchange smiles and small talks while making coffee. With time, I got to know Mariam’s real strength and dedication to survive. I have never felt she ever lost hope or stopped fighting, we worked together, we laughed, and shared the love of cats! 

Mariam’s death was not on the planned timeline, when I got the news I felt this new feeling of grief that I’ve never experienced before. A new feeling of sadness and appreciation for the long journey of Mariam’s. Good bye for now Mariam, you will be missed so deeply until next time!”

“While I know nothing can alleviate our loss, I do want to say that Mariam was a wonderful and loving soul who we were blessed to have known. Throughout the very few times I’ve interacted with Mariam, I can tell that I’ve met the strongest women ever. May she rest in peace and power.”

“I have only met Mariam three times since I worked remotely but these three times were enough to learn that she was a very brave and positive person. Despite everything that has happened with her, you find her always smiling and spreading love. May her soul rest in peace.”

Asser Khattab
“Mariam was one of the first people I met after I moved to Lebanon. We worked together at SMEX where she was a kindhearted and supportive colleague, never failing to brighten up the day with her smile. She will forever be remembered by those who knew her as a woman who fought the most unfortunate circumstances with patience, faith, and a sunny disposition.”

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SMEX is a registered Lebanese NGO that works to advance self-regulating information societies in the Middle East and North Africa.