Stories from Refugee Women Leaders - Rawaa (IWD 2018)
This story was told by Rawaa, a Syrian migrant who is a leader in her community in Cairo, on the occasion of International Women's Day 2018.
"God has masterfully created the land of jasmine and poured it into casts of beauty. It is Syria, the land of love, peace and good; a land that is small in area, but big in our hearts.
The war has turned everything to ashes … buildings, trees and people …
My name is Rawaa. With a heart laden with memories I came from the Land of Jasmine to Egypt, mother of the world which was mentioned in the Holy Quran: “Enter ye Egypt (all) in safety if it please Allah” (Yusuf: 99).
It is very difficult to express your feelings and reduce all the pain and suffering to mere words … It is hard to describe the war and its ugliness and the cruel scenes of death, blood and destruction, and to recall your fears, grievances, and sense of injustice for being deprived of your home, life, job and dreams. I tried to resist but my everyday nightmare was to lose any of my three daughters. So I kept a knife under my pillow at night for fear that one would come and take them away from me, leaving me no choice but to die with them. This was much better than losing my children. I changed my residence several times and went through very hard times as death haunted us everywhere we went. Eventually, I decided to take my daughters and widowed mother and travel ... but where to? .. So many options .. all leading to an unknown end …
I came to Egypt alone because my husband had to stay in Syria. I felt lonely and sad but I had to take up the roles of mother, father and daughter. I had to bear the hardship and build a whole new life from scratch. I slept on the floor and had absolutely nothing, but I resisted, I held on, I stayed strong. I worked hard and never complained. I went through very difficult times. I suffered fraud, illness and tremendous pressure, but I had no other choice. I had to stay strong and bear the responsibility. I used to wait until night fell and everyone was asleep so that I could cry. I didn’t want to scare or make them feel they had no support.
They closed the borders and prevented the Syrians from entering Egypt. This shattered all my husband’s hopes to come to us, and he actually couldn’t join us in Egypt despite all attempts. I worked hard and the situation was difficult but not impossible. The most important thing was for the girls to go to school. Everything was different but we managed to adapt to the new situation.
My eldest daughter who was a rebellious teenager, has topped her exams and is now in third grade at college where she pursues media studies. My second is a top fifth-grade student. My youngest, who does not know her father because she was still a newborn when we left Syria, has now overcome this issue and is growing up. My mother is nostalgic and misses her children given that I was supposed to fill the void left behind my six brothers and sisters who are scattered across distant countries.
Four years later, my husband arrived and we were finally reunited. He came through Sudan because all the other attempts failed. He suffered so much to be able to join us. I am currently supporting him with all my experiences and lessons learned in Egypt.
Today, after five years of expatriation and seven years of war, I grew to know the true meaning of a homeland, security, hope, and will.
I’ve learned that if a bullet does not kill you, it makes you stronger. I was capable of giving despite my fragile heart. I taught my daughters that they should be armed with knowledge when they go back reconstruct war-ravaged Syria. I also told them that they would represent Syria anywhere they went with their ethics and knowledge, and that they should show the world that we are capable of doing anything despite all the pain and destruction. The true Syria is very beautiful and shall remain so.
After all the hardships I went through, I could relate with those who couldn’t continue on their own and felt their pain. I volunteered at the Helwan Association for Community Development (Bashayer), the only institution that provides refugee services in Helwan. I worked with them as a volunteer coordinator to provide services (education, psychological Support/vocational training) to refugee women and children.
I am currently working for the Arab Organization for Human Rights, in the programme for teaching Syrian children and integrating them into society, given that education is of crucial importance and that the war will intellectually kill a whole generation. Our mission is to bridge that gap.
My story is similar to that of many women who lost everything but held on. I learned to be a mother, a sister and a friend. I am one of many strong Syrian women. We do not fall … we have wings.
Last thing, I would like to thank beloved Egypt, which welcomed us despite its already heavy burdens. We could never do it justice. Egypt is my second homeland. Thank you all good Egyptians. Your country is beautiful so keep loving and protecting it for one’s homeland is the most precious thing in existence."
For more information about IOM's event on the occasion of IWD 2018, please read our Press Briefing Note.
For Hala's story, please click here.