Shattered Pieces of a Homeland
Life is difficult for all refugees escaping the on-going violence in Syria, but it is especially hard for women and children. The gendered experience of violence and displacement "“ the need to flee the increasing violence and discrimination against women, which made living conditions unbearable "“ is amplified by the discrimination they face as women refugees.
Women who are separated from their communities and families are more vulnerable to exploitation, violence and abuse. Many Syrian women are exposed to sexual harassment simply because of their status as refugees, which is associated with economic vulnerability. Employers and landlords are often harassing women refugees from Syria. The women described being groped, harassed and pressured to have sex.
Syrian women "“ many of them having lost everything during the war and struggling to survive "“ are becoming the most vulnerable segment of the refugee community. Many experienced emotional and physical trauma in Syria, but face a new set of challenges as refugees. Many refugees don't know anyone in their new country, and it's hard to find support within the new environment. They struggle to provide food and shelter for their children and often face harassment, discrimination and isolation.
The problem is worsened by weak legal protection, low awareness among women of their rights, cultural attitudes as well as a lack of information regarding the support that is available to vulnerable refugee women.
Many Syrian women are traumatised, deprived and stigmatised; still their ultimate priority remains their and their children's survival. Their immediate concern is being able to provide a stable environment for their children, as well as find ways to support their families. In this settings, family planning, marital rights, reproductive and maternal health or just socialising is not a priority. But Syrian women need more than shelter and food to meet their basic needs.
Many women, especially those living in urban areas, don't know how their refugee status effects their eligibility to access health care when they first arrive from Syria. They need services to address their sexual and reproductive health needs. They need access to free contraceptives in a culturally sensitive manner. And they need basic health services that include the provision of clinical care for sexual violence survivors.
Women's centres, supported by UN agencies and other INGOs, across Jordan and Lebanon provide this safe space for women and girls to gather, to share information on support available to them, and to receive emotional support and crisis counselling.
The centres aim to empower Syrian refugee women by raising awareness on issues relating to health, GBV and parenting, but they also offer training opportunities and informal education. The centres serve to help women who may have been victims of intimate partner violence by providing a safe space where women and girls can access health care services, as well as socialise, learn and talk about issues affecting their daily life in exile.
al Azmeh "“ the crisis "“ is ever-present and inescapable. This project aims to illustrate the life of Syrian women refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. All the women interviewed have to navigate an unfamiliar and often unnerving new environment. Most face a daily struggle to find enough money to afford the rent, buy food and basic items, or access services such as health care. Their stories are often heart- breaking: families that were separated by the war, mothers having no choice but to let their children work, or leaving their children alone to go find a way to make make ends meet. Many of the women's memories are difficult, but they shared them unreservedly hoping that their stories will be heard and prevent the Syrian crisis from being forgotten. They are regaining control of their lives and hope to be able to eventually move beyond the crisis as they fight to provide for their families but the memories of their former lives and the trauma of war haunts them.
These are their stories.
With the Syria crisis entering its fourth year, the resources of many longer-term Syrian refugees in Jordan are being depleted, while other Syrians are just arriving"often with few resources. Many Syrian households in Jordan and Lebanon are in debt, have borrowed money or taken loans from family, landlords, neighbours, or shopkeepers. Finding a stable source of income continues to be challenging. Community support is an important coping mechanism for many families who rely on assistance from family or neighbours; are dependent on income from children, particularly boys, working; or have sold assets since arriving in exile. In an effort to diversify its response to ensure that vulnerable Syrian refugees do not feel the pressure to compete over resources with members of host communities, UNFPA's programming increasingly includes community-support activities, recreational activities, skills-based training and activities that strengthens the capacity of the community.
UNFPA's strategy embraces both emergency relief and development, its programme framework strives to address the underlying causes of poverty among Syrian refugee communities through the promotion of women's empowerment, prevention of gender-based violence, advocacy, improved access to reproductive healthcare services."
Our life in Jordan is hard," Ghada is a mother of three from Dara'a. She describes her family's difficult financial situation. They are in debt, behind with the rent of their small flat and not yet prepared for the coming winter. "It's only October but the nights are already getting colder. I'm dreading winter. We're not prepared. Last year, we didn't have any fuel to heat our flat. We used to go to my parents during the day and when we got home we'd go straight to bed. In Dara'a, we had a beautiful house. Now we don't even have beds. Just matrasses. Before my children had their own rooms and toys, now we don't have anything for them. They can't be carefree here. I take them to the centre so they can play here and have fun."
Ghada's youngest son has nightmares almost every night. He doesn't get any sleep at night and has become increasingly withdrawn. The family first came to the centre to access psychosocial support to deal with the psychological impact the conflict and exile had on the children. The women's centre offers women like Ghada psychological counselling and support to help her understand her children's needs and behaviour.
But beyond that Ghada is also worried about her children's education. She feels that schools in Jordan aren't prepared to cater for the needs of Syrian children who are either traumatised or at the very least have missed out on education as a result of the on going crisis in Syria. "I didn't think my children benefit form the schools here. The curriculum is very different and it's hard for them to catch up. My children need a lot of help after school, so they don't fall behind in class. But I can't help them with some of the classes. I didn't take English at school and sometimes it's difficult for me to help them with their homework. Here at the centre, I've started to go to some of the courses. I'm taking literacy classes and want to learn English, too. I'm now better prepared to help my children with their assignments. I think I'm also a good example for them because they see that I enjoy learning and they see me studying for my classes. Now they're more willing to go to school again." With the help of the women's centre in Zarqa, Ghada takes comfort in the fact that her family is slowly adjusting to their new live in Jordan.
The lack of work is a common concern for displaced Syrian. Jobs are a source of distraction and dignity, but they are difficult to come by, difficult to keep. Female Syrian refugees are particularly vulnerable to unemployment. Most women looking for work in Lebanon are unable to find a job. If they do find employment, they're earning about 40 per cent less on average than their male counterparts.
"I want to learn new skills but I'd also like to contribute here," says Yasmeen who is expecting another child. But instead of looking forward to having her baby, Yasmeen is concerned with her family's finances. "I worked as an accountant before the war and I would like to get a job and be able to support my family. I'm qualified but I think the skills I learn here will help me find better work in Lebanon." Like many educated and highly skilled middle-class Syrians, Yasmeen and her husband are struggling to find work that matches their skill level. Roughly one-third of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are unemployed. Most Syrians, who have found employment, work in unskilled or semi-skilled professions and are earning less than minimum wage. Her husband's wage alone is not sufficient to cover the expenses of Yasmeen's young family. Even though she's pregnant, she feels the pressure of having to contribute to the household income.
But the centre offers Yasmeen more than just training to improve her chances of finding a job once she's and her baby. She also found a place of refuge and a support network. "I try to come to the centre every day. It's the only time I get to myself. I can meet with the other women, talk and forget about my worries for a little while. We've become good friends. And we help each other. I'm going to have my baby soon and I didn't have any baby clothes. I didn't feel prepared but my friends gave me baby clothes and blankets they didn't need anymore. Especially, my friend Um Hadi has supported me during the pregnancy. We didn't plan to have another child because we feel insecure in Lebanon. But it's a great relieve to have friends who support me."
"Life here doesn't get worse," she said. "It doesn't get any better either. We just want to go home," says Yasmeen, who's expecting her third child. Then she talks about her life in Nabatieh. "My home is very small. We are eleven people in my house. It's too many. We can stay at the house until the end of the year but then we will have to move. I don't know if we can find something that we can afford. And we will have another baby by then, too." Yasmeen implores, "it's so important that I find a job."
While most domestic violence is a reaction to new surroundings and dynamics, in some cases, abuse that began back home spirals out of control when compounded with the stress of being a refugee. "It was happening before "“ but now it's worse," says Yara, a mother of five. In order to combat the problem faced by women and children, UNFPA provides one-to-one counselling, as well as dedicated outreach teams who visit refugee communities in urban areas and give workshops on abuse "“ often detecting cases in the audience.
"At home, in Syria, I didn't notice it so much because we were living with my husband's family. Now that we live here on our own, without his family, he's been shouting more and more." In Jordan, their relationship grew tense and her husband became more violent. "He's mad all the time. And we argue a lot about little things. We also have a lot of money worries. Our rent is 200JD; it's too much. Even if we worked day and night, it would be a struggle."
Since arriving in Jordan last year, the family has been struggling to get by. The aid they receive barely covers their expenses and without a work permit her husband only works occasionally as a labourer. Sometimes he sells tea and coffee. The family's financial situation is further complicated by the fact that Yara has to care for her brother who's lost both of his legs in the war. He used to care for his mother at home but now it falls to Yara to send her money whenever she has a little to spare. She feels guilty not to be able to take care of her, too. The responsibility she feels for her brother and mother further fuels tensions between the couple. She's tired and exhausted.
UNFPA believes that service providers need to work with people within the environment they're living in. Social workers and outreach volunteers sit down with families and have discussions with men and women's groups. It's the basis of UNFPA's programming to combat domestic violence.
An outreach volunteer told Yara about the centre, "she said it was a good place to get information, that I could go there and talk to someone about my problems at home. It's good to talk. Not just about the problems with my husband but also about my children. They've also been affected by our problems and the war back home. My son is always anxious and afraid." Yara says she's gaining more confidence knowing that she's not alone but that help is available for her and her children.
Some Syrian refugees marry off their daughters at a young age believing that marital status offers a form of protection from predators, rape and violence against women as well as a means to safeguard their daughter's future.
But these girls, who by fleeing the war in Syria have already been subjected to more than any child should, are at risk of mental health issues resulting from social isolation, stress and abuse. "My daughter, Hala, married for love," says Rana. "I got married when I was her age , too, so I didn't think it would be a problem."
Rana talks quietly about her life in Damascus before the war. It's only a distant memory now. She talks about her son and her twin daughters, Hala and Malak, who are now seventeen years old. And how the family decided to leave because they were afraid her son would have been drafted to the military soon. Her husband, a taxi driver, narrowly escaped three mortar explosions before giving up work. Three months he was unemployed not able to find safer employment. They didn't any future for themselves or their children if they stayed in Damascus.
Before they left Damascus Hala and Malak got married. Hala wasn't able to join her family in Lebanon because her new in-laws are Palestinian-Syrian and, as Palestinians, are currently banned from entering Lebanon. "I was happy for her. She was in love. But now"¦," Rana pauses, "Now, he's become another person. They are stuck in Syria. I worry about her. Her husband is very controlling now. He's not treating her well. She can't go out or meet friends and he started beating her. She has no privacy in her home. She lives with her parents-in-law and their grown children. Her in-laws insult her saying that she isn't a good wife. It leads to more arguments with her husband. And I can't protect her anymore." Rana explains that Hala had an abortion not long ago because she didn't feel ready to be mother yet. Alone in Syria and without her mother and siblings, it was a difficult time for her that was exacerbated by the tensions in her new home.
Rana believes that letting her daughter get married was a mistake. "He's taking his frustrations out on Hala because we are far away."
Malak got married the same day as her twin sister Hala. Unlike Hala, Malak and her husband were able to leave Syria with her parents. Rana explains that she let her daughters marry young because she feared for their safety. "I was so worried about Malak when we move to Lebanon. What if something happened to her? I thought she'd be safer with a husband." Rana is despairing because Malak's new husband has started beating her daughter. Malak is unable to cope with the sudden responsibilities of wife and homemaker, and she's been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. The tense relationship with her husband and her in-laws is overwhelming for the girl. "He shouts at her when she makes mistakes. And sometimes she passes out because of the stress this situation causes her. She misses her sister, too; they were so close. She's pregnant now. I don't know what can I do to help her."
Still children themselves, both sisters are now expecting their first child. Instead of protecting Malak and Hala from harm, marrying at a young age has left them even more exposed to exploitation and violence. Early marriages leave girls vulnerable to abuse. A girl who marries young and becomes pregnant " regardless of the circumstances or reasons " is a girl whose rights are undermined. A married girl is likely to be pressured or forced to leave school. She is denied her right to an education. A girl who is prevented from accessing contraception or even information about preventing a pregnancy is denied her right to education.
"I'm not able to help either of my daughters. I feel there is nothing we can do." Rana and her husband wish nothing more than to bring their daughters home but feel helpless.
War and displacement has left Malak and Hala exposed to abuse, and in their predicament Rana and her husband are unable to offer them parental protection. On the contrary, they feel vulnerable themselves. "It's not easy for Syrians in Lebanon. They don't like us here and think we have to accept this abuse because we're refugees," Rana cries. "My husband is insulted in the street. He was attacked by local youths once. He works so hard to provide for us but we just make ends meet. In the market, they demand higher prices from me because I'm Syrian. And even I get harassed in the street. I'm the mother of grown children yet men call after me: "˜yeah, you're cheap,' "˜come with me, I know you have experience.' It's humiliating and frightening. I think the harassment is even worse for married women. These men think we're experienced and lose that we'd accept their vulgar offers unlike unmarried women. As a married woman and mother, I know exactly what they're thinking of when they're catcalling. It's degrading. We are all suffering in displacement but that I'm not able to protect my girls is the worst feeling."
Rana started visiting the women's centre in Nabatieh to take part in the recreational activities the centre offers. "I wanted to take my mind of my sorrows. At home, I would constantly worry about my daughters but also about our money troubles. How are we going to keep a roof over our heads? At first, I felt guilty to come here to do embroidery. But I realised that there are a lot of services on offer "“ not just recreational activities. And the people here are very helpful." Rana sees a counsellor on a regular basis and is also taking part in therapeutic activities such as art and drama therapy. "It helps me to express my feelings. I feel like a different person after class." By expressing herself through art, an art therapist helps Rana understand things about herself that she otherwise may not have comprehended. It helps displaced women like Rana process complex emotions and feelings that they're struggling with to facilitate healing. Art therapy can help improve various mental and physical symptoms including anxiety, tension and reducing pain. It can be beneficial to those who have mental disorders, post traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) and have suffered emotional abuse.
"I found a purpose and stopped feeling sorry for myself," she says. "Now day after day I feel stronger. I take strength from the people around me as well. We help each other out."
Before the war, it was Wuroud's dream to become a teacher but when she was expecting her first child she had to put her dreams on hold. Then the war started and everything changed. During her flight from Dara'a Wuroud was separated from her husband and thought she may never see him again. She waited for him and the border and luckily they were reunited. In Azraq RC, Wuroud has been able to regain some of her confidence.
"You can't compare it to before the war though. But here I have the chance to work, help others and make a contribution. I teach literacy skills to 11 women. Those women were never given the opportunity to learn before but are now able to read and write because of the centres. In fact, we all start learning new things. Without the crisis we wouldn't have moved away from home but now we learn new things and learn about things we didn't know about before. Being able to socialise with other women from all over Syria who went through similar experiences is a source of strength for me. And it's a great opportunity."
"We have no women for marriage," is Jihan's usual response when Lebanese men ask about marrying her 15-year-old daughter Zeinab when they come looking for a bride. Like other Syrian women refugees, Jihan complained how Lebanese men constantly bombard her with marriage proposals or requests to arrange marriages with refugee girls in her neighbourhood.
"I don't want to marry yet. I like going the centre learn. I'm taking English lesson there." Zeinab loves to study, "at the centre we also learn how dangerous it can be to marry young." Her mother wants her to continue with her education, too. "A girl needs her education," says Jihan. "If I had been educated, maybe I'd be able to provide for my family in this situation. A boy can find work in places a girl can't." Going to the centre, lifts her spirits. Zeinab met new friends. "I miss my friends from Syria, too, but we try to keep in touch with Whatsapp," she smiles.
"After my son Zubeir was arrested, the fighting got worse and worse. We didn't want to leave our house because we didn't know what had happened to Zubeir. I didn't want him to be release and have nowhere to go. He was only a child when he was arrested."
But their security situation deteriorated and the family was forced to leave their home eventually.
"We were internally displaced for three and a half months. We were trying to find safety but there was nowhere in Syria that was safe. We were exhausted and we had small children with us, so we decided to return to our house, even if it wasn't safe." With a heavy heart, the family went home under sniper fire and shelling. "We thought it was better to live under bombardment than starve on the road."
The family couldn't imagine that the situation could get worse than it already was. The fighting intensified and the family was trapped in their neighbourhood surrounded by four fiercely contested frontlines. They lived under an impenetrable siege cut off from any humanitarian aid for seven months.
"At first, there were still some streets, narrow winded passages that were open. For a while, my husband would be able to venture outside and comeback with food and water for us. But then we were cut off completely. There was no route left to leave the neighbourhood. We were trapped without any access to supplies."
"My daughter was two and a half years at the time, and I was still breast feeding. Otherwise, I don't think she would have survived. I used to cut up any fabric I could find to keep her clean. We didn't have any food. We would go out and try finding something, anything in the abandoned and destroyed houses in the neighbourhood. We risked our lives to go out, there were snipers hiding who shot at anything that moved. After a while, we weren't able to find any foodstuffs anymore. We were starving." Jihan describes her situation bluntly, "When there was no food left, we would go out and look for animal faeces. We would break them up and look for undigested grains. And we gave those washed grains our children to eat."
"At the end, we had no running water and it was impossible to go out and scavenge for anything edible. We were encircled by the frontlines and trapped. There was no end to the siege in sight."
"Then I heard a rumour that the Red Cross was able to evacuate women and children. It was a difficult decision to make because we had to leave my husband behind. But if we wanted our children to survive I needed to leave him. He's still in trapped in out home. I haven't seen him since. It breaks my heart that this happened to our family."
When the family tired to flee their neighbourhood for a second time they were detained at a checkpoint. They tried to detain Zubeir's younger brother and other boys but luckily the Red Cross staff was able to intervene and released the children. Finally, Jihan and her three youngest children were able to leave Darayya.
"Once we left Darayya we were placed in a shelter for internally displaced people. The Red Cross provided food but we weren't able to leave. Eventually, we were able to get bailed out and we left to Lebanon straight away. Zubeir was able to join us here when he was released."
"We arrived in Lebanon on November 10, 2013. My sister was already in Lebanon and we stayed with her at first. At last, we' were safe."After leaving her sisters small home, she found a room but wasn't able to afford the rent on her small income. "They asked us to leave when we couldn't pay the rent. Money is our biggest concern. I found a work as a cleaner and my employer let's us use this room for free. Before the war, we were well off and had a comfortable life. The war changed all that. Now I live in this small room with my children. It smells. We have no running water and there is no bathroom."
"We always need money. The food coupons are never enough. Sugar is a luxury we haven't had for years. Even at "˜Eid, I didn't even have any candy for my children. The winter is coming and the little one's need new shoes. Nothing you see here is ours. Everything is borrowed. We own nothing anymore. Even the blankets are borrowed," she sighs. "My kids are always sick. We're always cold. They have difficulty breathing because there is no ventilation in the house. And the smell"¦"
"I went to the centre because I thought they distribute food. I always try to go to places that offer aid. I need to for my children. When I went, there was a workshop taking place and they distributed hygiene kits to the women. I talked to the staff and they told me about the therapy. I go every Thursday now. And Zeinab goes, too. I would like Zubeir to join us. Maybe he will eventually. He's gotten a bit better though." Jihan pauses. "Zeinab and I have learned a lot at the centre. I've learned how to manage my emotions and I think I can relate to my children better, too. I hope that because of what I have learned that I'm more patient with Zubeir. He's not as withdrawn as he used to be. He opens up more now. But I know he didn't tell you everything about his time in prison because I was here. He doesn't want me to worry but I know what he tells his friends."
Women are the sole providers for one in four Syrian refugee families. They struggle to provide food and shelter for their children and often face harassment and isolation. Many refugees don't know anyone in their new country, and it's hard to find support within their new environment.Access to financial resources to cover basic household needs is a major concern for many Syrian families. Female heads of households in particular find it difficult to generate an income as they struggle to balance the need to work with socio-cultural factors that sometimes limit women's interaction in public. Traditionally Syrian men work while women stay at home. Now those women must find ways to provide financially, often while raising children as well as caring for family members with chronic illnesses or disabilities.
Farah is a mother of four from Damascus. In Syria, Farah and her husband owned their home. She did not work. "It was a peaceful life," she says, "until the fighting began." Her husband went missing amid the crisis. She doesn't know what happened to him. She heard rumours from neighbours but she can't be sure. Farah is clinging to the hope that he's still alive and that they'll be reunited again.
In Jordan, the aid her family receives isn't enough to pay for rent, bills and food. Farah is the sole provider for her four children and elderly mother. She faced countless obstacles trying to find a job. She has never worked before and feels a lack of experience and skills is holding her back. Hoping to improve her skills and chances for better work, Farah participates in training programmes at the women's centre in Zarqa. Since attending the counselling activities, the pressure of providing for her family doesn't weigh as much any more.
"Coming to the centre has helped me gain a new perspective. I have made friends and I learn new skills. I can get support when I need it." After visiting the centre regularly for weekly counselling activities and socialising with other Syrian women, Farah identified an opportunity to increase her income. Farah is now preparing meals for women in her neighbourhood who, due to the overcrowded and unsuitable housing, don't have access to a kitchen of their own.
"Without the centre I wouldn't have had the confidence to approach my neighbours and offer to cook for them. I didn't even know many of them."
"We have to discover hidden strengths in ourselves. I have to be stronger. I'm often tired, and I struggle, but I'm providing for my family," says Farah proudly. "Syrian women are smart. Things have changed and now we are the providers of the household."
The women;s centres believe that building the capacity of Syrian refugee women has a tremendous long-term impact. Supporting the ability of Syrian women and girls to speak on their own behalf is a successful strategy towards empowering women and girls and addressing difficult issues. The recreational and skills-based and community-based training initiatives offered by the women's centres build resilience and allow women to secure an independent livelihood.
"I think the war has changed my life. Before I was dead but now I'm alive," says Najwan, a young mother of four who fled Syria with her young children and in-laws when her husband went missing.
Najwan describes a difficult childhood and a loveless marriage. "My parents got divorced when I was nine years old. My father took my sister and me away from my mother and he left us with our grandmother." Without a loving parent to look out for her, Najwan was groomed by a neighbour soon after she moved in with her grandmother. For three years she had to endure the abuse of a trusted neighbour and family friend. Najwan was too young to understand what was happening but when her eventually grandmother discovered the abuse it was her who was punished not her abuser. Najwan was only thirteen years old when her family rushed to marry her off to an older man.
Her in-laws took advantage of her youth and insecurity. She was a traumatised child overwhelmed by her new responsibilities and her family's expectations. Her mother-in-law especially vented her frustrations and anger on Najwan. Instead of guiding the child, she punished her for every mistake. "I didn't know how to run a household and didn't know how to cook. My mother-in-law always pointed out my mistakes and hit me and insulted me. My husband never interfered or asked his mother to be more understanding with me," remembers Najwan. She felt she didn't deserve better."
Then the war started and things began to change," says Najwan. "Before the war, my husband was working hard to provide for us. But when the war started there was very little work and fighting everywhere. One day, he went out looking for food for our family. But he never came back. We didn't know what happened to him. The family was desperate to find him. There was no food. No water. No electricity. We were in a miserable state. My children kept asking me, "˜where is daddy?' I told them that he was travelling. Every day bombs hit our neighbourhood. There was no place we could go to for safety. This is why we fled. Even here in Lebanon, I'm thinking that my husband may still be alive. Only recently we heard what happened. Our neighbours said he was arrested and they believe that he has been killed, but they can't be sure. I have not him yet mourned. I don't know if I can believe what I've heard."
When Najwan arrived with her in-laws in Lebanon, Najwan was mentally and physically exhausted. The family doesn't have any savings and they're struggling to earn enough money for the rent. Najwan was especially worried bout the wellbeing of her youngest son. "Emad is only 4 years-old, he doesn't know anything but this crisis. He doesn't have the same childhood my older children had before the war. He can't play outside, it feels like I'm keeping him in prison."
A friend in the neighbourhood told her that the women's centre could help her and her son. "We started seeing a therapist. And I'm feeling much stronger." Even her friend says she's a different woman now. "She's not the person, she was before."
"The centre has helped me a lot. I'm learning new skills. I'm going to all the classes they offer at the centre. I want to learn everything. I missed out on school because I married young but here I have a chance to learn again. And I'm enjoying it so much. I have attended all the communications workshops, too. And I have started to stand up for myself. For the first time, I have said "˜no' to my mother-in-law," Najwan is radiating as she describes the ways in which the centre has helped her. After working with a social worker and attending intensive counselling sessions and workshops, Najwan has gained a confidence she's never had before.
"I've decided to say "˜no' to any one who wants to hurt me." The day Najwan decided to be more assertive, her life turned around. "I'm now strong enough to politely say "˜no' to my mother-in-law, and she stopped bothering me. My in-laws are not as controlling as they used to be. They don't like me coming to the centre but they can't stop me."
At the centre, Najwan has been able to become more assertive and independent but she's also found a strong support network in the other women who visit the centre. "We've become very good friends. I feel loved and supported for the first time. They are like family to me."
"It's my dream to have a job and my own house for my children and me. I've never imagined that I would have to work or want to work. I used to see myself as a homemaker and mother. But because of the war, I'm a refugee, a widow and have to provide for my children. The situation forced me to rethink. And with the support from the centre, I'm more confident and more capable. I like the idea of working now because I know I have friends who love and support me. I'm not alone anymore. I don't have to face my problems alone anymore but can talk about my feelings and problems with loved ones. And I'm happy to support my friends with their dreams, too."
Hajar & Ibrahim
"Homs is a city of horror," says Hajar a mother of four from Homs. All of her children but her oldest daughter are living with her and her husband, Ibrahim, in Zarqa, Jordan.
"There was the smell of explosives everywhere, there were fires burning that filled the air with black smoke. I used to go to work every day and hear the sound of snipers' bullets. The worst thing was the fear of kidnapping," she says. "Sometimes we didn't take out the rubbish for days for fear of being in the street."
"It's hard, especially for the children," adds Ibrahim. "Our main worry is their welfare. As an adult you can cope, but the little ones don't understand what's happening. They are afraid of sudden noises and if a door slams they jump."
When the fighting came closer and closer to their neighbourhood he thought, "We either die here or we get out of Homs now. Before heading to Jordan, we went to Damascus to stay with my daughter and her family but their neighbourhood wasn't safe either. There was fighting everywhere, and I decided we must move on," says Ibrahim sadly. "My son-in-law didn't want to leave Damascus, and at first, my wife didn't want to go either because of my daughter. It was difficult for us to leave them in Damascus. It was the last time we saw our daughter and our grandchildren."
When Hajar talks about her daughter her eyes tear up. The couple and three youngest children left their home in Homs two years ago but their daughter and grandchildren are still in Syria. "We talk everyday. I worry about her. It's not safe. I wish she was here with us in Zarqa."
Ibrahim says that all their financial worries pale compared to the concern about their daughter and her young family. "Our family is scattered all over. We have family who are now in Turkey, Lebanon and here in Jordan. Only my daughter is still in Syria.
"My mother recently died. I didn't see her and now my daughter has no family left in Syria," a tear fell down her cheek. "My daughter tells me they only have electricity a few hours a day. And I fear it's not safe for her to stay there but"¦," Hajar's voice breaks. "That the family is separated is very hard on us."
"Everyone comes with a story," says Hajar about the women's centre in Zarqa. "So many of the stories are tragic. Women who have lost their husbands in the war or even a child, and families that are separated, like ours. Here at the centre, we can talk about our experiences, we share our sorrow and we support each other, too. Before I came to the centre, I didn't leave the house very often and I didn't even know my neighbours. The loneliness made it difficult for me to cope with my emotions."
"I'm a carpenter. In Syria, I had my own shop," says Ibrahim proudly as he remembers his previous life before the war. "I wish they'd allow me to work in Jordan legally. I'm skilled. I have experience."
The refugees from Syria have left everything they know and own behind and have become dependent on humanitarian assistance, but they carry a wealth of experience, education and skills with them across the border. Ibrahim is keen to work as a carpenter again, he feels he could make a valuable contribution with his experience as a carpenter but he doesn't have work permit.
"The work permit is very expensive. I can't afford to get one anyway. And I've heard that even if you manage to get one, UNHCR will immediately suspend your aid. But I don't know anyone with a work permit who found steady work, and they still need to borrow money to get by. Most people try finding work illegally for very little money and no security."