Each year on 20 June, we mark World Refugee Day, a global event to recognise the courage and tenacity of refugees, and to raise awareness about the experiences they continue to face in displacement. This World Refugee Day, we’d like to introduce you to our colleague in Lebanon, Fatima. Fatima is Syrian and a refugee – but more importantly, she is a mother, a daughter, and dedicated member of our team.
In Lebanon, refugee and vulnerable families have been deeply impacted by the country’s compounding crises, including a massive explosion at the heart of Beirut last summer, an economic and political collapse, and the COVID-19 pandemic. These crises have severely affected the ability of many families to earn a living, leaving many struggling to make ends meet. And yet many – just like Fatima – have also refused to give up hope.
“The darkest nights make the brightest stars.” – Fatima
Fatima, 30, fled Syria with her family eight years ago to come to the area of Bar Elias, Bekaa to start a new chapter in life. Even though the hardest phase is over now, she reflects back on her life in Syria and what it means to be a refugee working side by side with an international organization by supporting her surrounding community.
“It’s been almost eight years now. I cannot believe it’s been that long since I left my beautiful home in Syria. When I think back, it is the only thing that can truly put a smile on my face. My home back in Idlib. A home that perhaps my daughter will now never know. If we were there right now, we’d be sitting on a pastel green couch facing a beautiful view of the landscape, and I’d be serving you matte tea from a hand-made tea kettle. I still remember my tea kettle, because I am a tea person and this was my favourite kettle. Syria is my home and my country and it will forever remain so. Oh, the memories,” says Fatima, as she adjusts the way she was sitting.
A moment later she continued: “We lived with dignity. Not to say that we don’t live with dignity now, because we do, but when you tell people who you are and where you live, they tend to look at you differently. You’re automatically categorized, and people start to assume things, not only because I am a woman, but also because I am a refugee. I am an educated woman, and I can read and write,” she says proudly.
“Personally, it used to bother me, but I don’t let it get to me anymore. My deceased father, God bless his heart, always used to tell me the darkest nights make the brightest stars. I have so many good memories attached to his voice, but I always tell myself that every time life gets hard. Eight years ago, those were his last words to me. The day we fled Syria, I kept telling myself I will overcome any obstacle that comes my way. I used to pray to God day and night to give me the strength to keep moving forward and to make something of myself.” Fatima’s eyes fill with tears.
Fatima was very keen to pursue a career in law and was very much motivated to doing so before the Syria Crisis happened. Even after fleeing Syria with her family, her will to strive for better never went away. “There is a fire inside me that I believe cannot be put out. I am always very motivated to do better and to learn more. Having my education stripped away was not the end of the road for me. I am not a quitter. I was going to do something meaningful with my life, I just didn’t know what.”
She continues, “It was here in Bar Elias, when an opportunity came knocking on my door. I was asked if I wanted to part take in a fire awareness training and although I was hesitant at the beginning, I was very happy that I agreed to it. My prayers had finally caught up with me. I was introduced to a great team, and people that were striving to help others. Today, I am a Shelter Focal Point (SFP) with Medair, and I get to meet a lot of people that are going through the same pain as I am – people that have fled their homes and left loved ones behind to start a new chapter in their life. The most important part for me is that I get to connect with my community on a personal level and provide trainings on important subjects like fire awareness, needs assessments, and so on. When I think about the future now, all I can think about is building a better tomorrow for my daughter. She’s at the core of everything I do. Even though this is our reality now, I want her to grow up with hope and dreams. My main focus for her in life is to make sure she is a driven person with ambitions,” says Fatima with a smile on her face.
Fatima proudly continues to work as an SFP within the informal settlements of the Bar Elias area in Bekaa. As she described, the needs moving forward are tremendous and she would like to continue to provide support for the people of her community. She still hopes her dreams of returning to Idlib will come true one day.
At the end of our time with Fatima, we ask her one final question: what did you take with you the day you left Syria? Fatima looks at us proudly and says, “My dignity.”
Medair’s work in Lebanon is made possible by the support of United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Swiss Solidarity, Medicor Foundation, the European Union’s ‘Madad’ Fund, Global Affairs Canada in partnership with Tearfund Canada and generous private donors