With the conflict entering its 8th year and more than 5.4 million people so far having fled the violence in Syria, seeking refuge in other countries, it is easy to forget that behind the label ‘refugee’ and behind all the numbers are people. People with their own stories, with dreams for the future, with a desire to not merely survive but to make the best of the difficult circumstances they find themselves. Yasmine, Rabia, Ayman, Ahmad and Tarek, all left Syria in search of safety and a better life. They told us their stories and how they are trying to build something and to help lift others out of the darkness.
A new purpose
When Yasmine left Syria she found it very difficult to adapt to her new life in Jordan. She spent the first two years rejecting her new reality and edging deeper into hopelessness. But when she started volunteering with other young Syrians and Jordanians, mentoring young people through the Aswat Faeela programme, she found a new purpose and direction in helping others like herself.
“We shouldn’t allow people to turn inwards and close themselves off,” says Yasmine. “We need to help them integrate into society and express their full potential”. As young people going through some of the same challenges they can relate to each other. Yasmine is helping them to integrate into the society they are now part of, developing their skills and exploring their full potential. With the support of an EU-funded scholarship, she has started her studies again and is now investing in her future.
For Ayman, his work with the Red Crescent is a way to ‘give back’ by supporting Syrian refugees like himself in Istanbul with translation when they need to access medical services but may not speak or understand Turkish. When Ayman is at the volunteer centre, he plays with children and helps them to go back to simply being children. “We play with the children and try to help them forget the war”, says Ayman. Forgetting for a time some of the trauma they may have experienced from the war, from displacement, from the instability of their living situations, of the precariousness of the livelihoods of their families, of the suffering from losing loved ones.
Rabia teaches adult literacy to Syrian women who like her, came to the Bekaa valley in Lebanon in search of safety. It gives her solace that the landscape and the people of the Bekaa are similar to that of Syria and the proximity to Syria means she doesn’t feel quite so far from home. For Rabia, training women and empowering them by teaching them to read and write is vital to protect them from potential exploitation, but also to keep them active. People need a purpose and dignity to live their lives and they don’t want to feel as though they are a burden or recipients of charity. “We don’t want to be given food. We want to work and learn,” says Rabia
As well as teaching practical skills, Rabia also offers emotional and psychological support to other women: “We all live difficult situation, so through these lessons I supported them psychologically, the women return to her house happy not only because they learned the language, but because she is able to deal with her son and not get angry at him, we are very stressed out and need these skills that complement education.”
Rabia wants to stay active and engaged so that when she and others like her return to Syria, they can play an active role in rebuilding their country. “We will certainly return to rebuild Syria. We can’t change reality, but at least we can try to strengthen ourselves in order to change this reality.”
At the Interactive Youth Theatre Group, young people from Syria and Lebanon meet in an open and informal space, where they engage through theatre, improv and dance, and forge friendships with each other. In this creative and artistic space, religious and cultural backgrounds melt away and the youngsters instead connect on the human level. The theatre group is based in a part of Tripoli in Lebanon in which historically there were some tensions between communities. For Ahmad, a trainer with the theatre group, "it is very important that there are Syrians and Lebanese interacting together which creates social integration between them".
For a brief time, this theatre space is a chance for the young people to forget about their troubles and their differences and offer each other support. These intercultural spaces help to promote peace and understanding between communities by showing people all the things they have in common, not the other way around.
/file/everyday-heroes-syria-ahmad_enEveryday Heroes Syria: Ahmad
Moving on from trauma
After the revolution started, the area where Tarek lived in Syria fell into the hands of Daesh. Being a psychologist was considered blasphemous by Daesh and Tarek feared for his and his family’s safety. He left for Turkey and began working as a psychologist with Doctors of the World, an international NGO. As well as his practical skills and training as a psychologist, its Tarek’s capacity for empathy that helps him connect with his patients, having experienced some of the same things as them: “Being Syrian and a psychologist, I am in a better position to understand the needs of the people who have lived through the same exodus,” says Tarek.
He is helping other Syrians like Nabiha to come to terms with the trauma they may have experienced from the war, and the shock of adapting to their new and often challenging living conditions. Nahiba explains, “I lived through the crisis in Aleppo. I lost my mother and my brother. I came to this Doctors of the World centre in a state of distress and asked for a psychologist. Thanks to (Tarek’s) help I felt better, he gave me solutions I wouldn’t have found alone.”