War steals and destroys life. Refugee women give and build life.
After many years working with refugee women, I’ve come to realize that they are the very life of their families and communities. For most of them the war sliced open their hearts leaving gaping wounds. Yet, they’ve kept their families going.
I saw middle-aged Im-Fahed. Her husband killed and burned, oldest son shot, daughter and grandchild dead in childbirth due to lack of medical access. Im-Fahed fled with her remaining kids and grandkids. In the refugee camp she wasn’t just juggling for survival of her own family, I saw her take on the care of an abandoned newborn baby boy until he could return to his family.
I would see 14-year-old Keera hobble toward us with her joyful face and intelligent eyes. Born with a rare knee defect in both legs, she moved awkwardly down the dirt path in front of the tents. Unabated and determined, she became a star of our whole community health program, visiting and training more families than any other single volunteer.
I saw Marram - depressed and illiterate. She lost hope at age six after she was taken from her widowed mom and denied schooling. At 20, she was a mom with three preschoolers of her own. Maram was surviving both war and her own private demons. She had her first grader explain his school lessons so that she, too, could learn to read.
While fleeing her country, Farah cracked her thigh in a steep fall in the mountains. Months later I saw her conscientiously care for her small children on a dirt floor. Not having been able to see a doctor for her leg, she occasionally still winces in pain.
I saw Aisha - eyes set unevenly in her frowning 20-year-old face. Her body is slightly “off” in many places making her look, move and sound a bit different. But she’s strong as an ox and, more importantly, has a heart full of love. I’ve seen her enthusiastically scrub the rough cement floors and care for the two young children of her neighbor, who was bedridden after an emergency C-section.
These women have strength - a strength that goes deep. Somewhere deep inside herself, each woman seems to find it. And it’s an unselfish strength, one that cares for others.
I’ve learned that women are strong. Women carry the world on their shoulders.
Could the ancient Greeks have gotten it wrong? Maybe it wasn’t Atlas who held up the world on his shoulders. It must have been his mother or maybe his sister who carried the world - not with muscles but with a heart of fire and backbone forged in hardship.
The dark and drizzly day in the refugee camp had changed the ground into slippery mud and puddles. A shallow one-foot wide ditch channeled overflowing water around a tent-shack. Hassan, two years old and still unsteady on his short legs, toddled out of the tent. Passing him big sister Amira, five years old, easily stepped over the ditch. Little Hassan hesitated. He didn’t want to slip into the muddy ditch. A group of adults near the tent were too busy talking to notice his need for help. Big little Amira saw him and hopped back to him. With one hand clutching his jacket at the shoulder, almost lifting him, they crossed the ditch side by side. She continued to steady her little brother all the way home.
About the Author: Christine is an IDEAS Associate and community health professional working among refugees in Lebanon. Click here to read her previous blog post: Why it is Important to be a Good Cheek Kisser."