Written by Carolyn Davis
You didn’t need to listen to the girls for long to detect their passion, intelligence and eloquence. All were teenagers; all came to Lebanon after their families fled the war in Syria. Would they like to participate in a small video project? I asked them through an interpreter. They smiled broadly and answered na’am (yes).
I met these impressive girls in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley when the Norwegian Refugee Council’s emergency roster division, NORCAP, deployed me to do communications work last summer and fall for ACAPS and the Mixed Migration Platform. The Jordan-based Mixed Migration Platform is a consortium of several international nongovernmental humanitarian organisations, including ACAPS. It produces research on refugees and other migrants traveling to, from and through the Middle East and advocates for policymaking that protects the rights of people on the move.
My specialty within humanitarian communications is known as Communicating with Communities. The premise of it is that not only do people affected by extreme violence or natural disasters have the right to information amid crises, they also deserve two-way communication channels and skills so they can gather and disseminate critical information on their own.
The girls and I agreed to meet again late the next afternoon. Earlier in the day, they explained, they would be helping their mothers prepare sweets for that evening’s e Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. They promised to think overnight about how they would answer this question in the video: What do you want the world to know about you?
Ali Hammoud, an outreach volunteer officer with the Italian organisation INTERSOS, another Mixed Migration Platform partner, and I left Beirut for the drive to a Bekaa Valley activity center that should have taken about 90 minutes but was made longer by holiday traffic. The girls were waiting and excitedly told us through INTERSOS senior social worker Shaza El halabi that their stories would revolve around the obstacles they have faced to continue their education in a new country. They spent a couple of hours writing their script and practicing what they would say. The call to prayer for the Eid holiday began just as we began recording and provided a soundtrack for the video as one girl after the next spoke of hardships they and many young female refugees face – early marriage, lack of documents, the stress on parents of being caught in war and fleeing home.
“When I started the morning school, specially my first day, I was so scared that they would make fun of me. The following year I wanted to apply for the grade nine certificate so they asked for official documents. I did not have such documents. This caused me a lot of stress,” said Yamama, who had been at the top of her class in Syria the previous year.
Eventually, Yamama was admitted to school and made friends with classmates.
Huda encountered tough times when Lebanese and Syrian students fought with each other as one group left the classroom and the other entered. Finally, her father pulled her out of school.
“I do not go to school now, but God willing, we will go back to Syria and I will finish my education there,” she said.
I returned to the Bekaa Valley in November, on my last weekend in the Middle East, to show the video to the girls and hear their feedback and suggestions. They wanted to make sure that the video’s viewers absorbed one overarching message:
“Every person who flees their country will face many problems to integrate in a new country,” Doha said. “We must not give up the fight to achieve our goals and dreams.”