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A journey from loneliness and distress to hope and strength, Reem tells her story

In 2017, Reem Mohamed, a (33) Syrian woman, fled with her husband and two children as war engulfed her countryReem is a young Syrian woman, married with two children, who have been living in Egypt since then. Reem is originally from Damascus countryside,  had to move to the capital, Damascus, when her village was declared a war zone. “Although we thought that the capital would be a safer place for us, we lived very hard times. The economic conditions were very bad. No life, no electricity, no safety, and the capital was under attack all the time,” she says.

At that time, Reem and her husband realized that it was about time to flee the country. “We have already lost our home, our business and we left with nothing,” Reem explains. The family left everything behind: their families, friends and country. “We had some savings; so we took our passports and left the same night,” she adds.

The trip to Cairo was not without risks. They lack food and water during their trip which lasted for hours. “Travelling in such terrible conditions and with two children – a 3-years-old son and a six-month-old daughter was a nightmare,” she says.

The family headed to Alexandria to join their relatives there. Her husband tried to start a food processing business. But the business failed and he lost most of his capital. He had to work as an employee in another business.

Adapting to her new life is another challenge for Reem. Badi Ahwa” (I want to buy coffee) is a simple expression that was not understood by Egyptians”! “People did not understand what I was trying to say,” Reem says. She explains that she never thought that the difference of dialects would be a problem when she decided to move to Egypt. “I know that I am in a better situation than other Syrians who live in isolated camps elsewhere. Here, we live among Egyptians and as part of society. However, the integration is still not that easy. The difference in dialects, cultures, and even in food is obvious.” she underlines.

At the beginning, I used to take care of my house and children only. I used to spend days alone, with no one even knocking at my door,”  she adds.

Reem could not easily adapt to her new life or integrate into a new country. But when she joined a Whatsapp group in her neighbourhood, she was introduced to a CARE Friendly Space. Located in Agami, Alexandria, CARE Friendly Space is a safe place for women created in neighbourhoods where the majority of residents are Syrian refugees.

This place offered Reem an opportunity to network with other refugee women from different countries, including Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Eritrea as well as Egyptians. Activities such as sewing, drawing, cooking, psychological support or even just information sessions about the legal status of refugees, their rights and duties in their new host community were organized.

“This place allowed me to communicate again with people like me, speaking the same language, dialect and with similar stories. I felt home again,” she says. “I learnt to draw, sew and make string art. I displayed my artwork in exhibitions and sold some of my work. But it all stopped with the pandemic,” she adds.

Then, came the COVID-19 pandemic

With the outbreak of the pandemic, Reem, like many other families, went through a difficult time. There was little income and nowhere to go. Even the Friendly Space that she used to consider as her only recreational and learning centre closed its doors during the lockdown. She could no longer connect with her peers.

Podcast Training

Our team at CARE Egypt understood the feelings of loneliness and the profound depression of these women during the lockdown.   Hence, we created “Lametna” (Our Gathering), a new podcast as a way for female refugees to reconnect.

Season 1 episodes focused on opening a safe space to express their feelings and offering psychological support. Then, twenty Syrian and non-Syrian women refugees volunteered to train in program hosting.

Reem was one of the participants. She hosted a program that she named “Nasij Al-Hekayat” (Weaving Tales). “I had the opportunity to speak about everything: my memories, me being a bride in my house back in Syria nine years ago, about refugees who drowned at sea, about success and failure, my artwork and many other topics,” she explains.

In six months, we podcasted 100 episodes. We reached 7707 listeners from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, the USA and Iraq.

Reem left Syria with her 3-year-old son and 6 months-old baby. Four years on, Reem still gets scared when hearing an airplane passing by. The war memories are still vivid in her mind. However, she is full of hope that one day all the hard times would be gone and maybe one day they will go back to their country so that the children meet their grandparents, uncles and aunts for the first time in years.

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Mona

Though asylum seeking may protect one from the devastating physical consequences of war, the psychological impact is inevitable.

“It is as if I have left the strong, confident Arabic teacher back whom I used to be back in Syria, all I have now is a weak, dependable character, that fears everything and never does anything on its own” says “Mona”, a Syrian woman who came to Egypt after the war circumstances in Syria.

Having an autistic child added much to her suffering; due to her husband’s abandonment of his responsibility towards him, she had to stay up with him all night, fearing her husband would hit him harshly if he cried and woke him up.

Mona failed to express herself and her suffering, she preferred to stay silent and keep it all to herself, she even refused to visit doctors when she got sick.

She only visited a doctor for the first time after two month of nonstop bleeding.

“I thought it was my husband’s right to treat me like this; I used to accept being hit by him instead of my son, I used to accept humiliation and scolding, I used to accept being blamed for delivering an autistic child, I used to accept it all in fear of getting a divorce, but I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

Joining “The Friendly Space” support group was a turning point for “Mona”; she realized that an everlasting positive change in her life had to start from within first, then it would work its way out.

Learning to stand up for herself was her key to a new life, she started facing her husband and refusing his bad treatment, she stopped him when he tried to hit her or their son, she told him he had to bear the responsibility of their child with her, and asked him to stay up with him at night at least once a week because she needs some rest and sleep.

When he refused her requests at the beginning, “Mona” threatened him and asked for a divorce.

To her surprise, he immediately retreated, apologized and agreed to all her requests.

“My fear of losing my husband was actually destroying my life not saving it, when I risked everything for the sake of my dignity, I got everything in return.

It only required me some bravery and the courage to say “NO” to lead a totally new life, one which I am actually satisfied with.

Now I have my strong independent personality back and I am not ready to ever give up my rights again.”

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A Great Story Behind

KL is a 17 year old Syrian adolescent who moved to Cairo after the war took place in Syria.

As all Syrians who were forced to leave their homes, remembers the exact date in which he left his home on 13 November, 2012.

When KL moved to Cairo, he was only 14 years old.

As he moved with his family and without his father, KL began to earn his family’s living by working in parking lots, supermarkets, grocery stores and hairdressers.

“I had to work, though I faced many problems to find a job, Some days I returned home with 2 pounds and this was all I succeeded to get”

In 2015, His mother saw an announcement on Facebook for an “Interactive Theatre” asking for volunteers by CARE in a CSO near their house.

“Though I was a little bit not sure that this is a true training, I gave myself a chance to have something new!”, He added “I felt at the beginning that I do not belong neither to the place nor participants and that I am a stranger as I always feel”.

But this feeling has been dramatically changed after the third session of the training.

“This spirit I have felt in the group brought back the same feeling I used to have with my friends back in Syria”.

During the first stage of the training in which the trainer helped the participants to get closer to their personalities and memories, many hurtful memories were passing in KL’s mind.

KL remembered the sexual harassment incident he faced when he was 8 years old. As he described, a man took him in a hidden place and forced him with a knife to take off his clothes.

KL mentioned that the perpetrator threatened him that he will be killed if he told anybody about what happened.

That was not the only memory that crossed his mind, KL also remembered his two close friends who died in front of his eyes in Syria.

“I became accustomed to scenes of blood and murder, I need help!”

After some sessions and getting involved in acting, KL’s character has completely changed, He became more optimistic about his future.

His smile began to appear for the first time since he came to Egypt as he mentioned.

He found new friends and his talents appeared. Moreover, He became a defendant for the cause of the project and combating Sexual and Gender Based Violence.

“I became more close to problems that Syrians face and I feel I have a role in changing my community”.

The interactive theatre training has helped him overcome his inner pain and awful incidents he faced in his life.

KL, as per the trainer’s evaluation, has a great potential in acting and in interactive theatre.

The trainer and his colleagues always encourage him before and after the performance.

The young man’s scenes are met with loud applause from the audience every time he conducted theatre performances.

“I have retrieved my dreams and I have a role model, our theatre trainer”.

KL offers help in many scenes in case of absence of his colleagues. He has been a co-trainer for a new theatre group for women in the same project.

Moreover, he was recruited as a theatre trainers in a Syrian local NGO working in Egypt. KL’s dream is coming true.

He described the “Interactive Theatre” training as a turning point in his life and apparently it will be.

NB: KL is not the real name of the young man as per her request due to the sensitivity of the incident he faced

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Nesma Ramadan from marginalized divorced woman to successful entrepreneur

Once married ten years ago, Nesma was a
housewife. After a three-month marriage, Nesma
got divorced. Since that time, she did not have
anyone to support her financially. Her father
passed away. Her brother helps but he still needs
to meet the needs of his children. “Even the
EGP 300 divorced pension I used to receive was
stopped due to some employee’s mistake,” she
explains. “We used to argue a lot. He slapped me
many times. When it was all over, I felt very down.
Yet, I had to do something with my life”, she says.
Nesma, now living with her mother, in Dayrout
El-Sherif village, Assiut governorate, started with
a grocery store; however, it did not work out well.
“It was not lucrative enough. Moreover, when my
mother got sick, I had to leave everything for her,”
she says. “But how can we live with my mother’s
four-hundred EGP pension?”
At that time, the project facilitators were reaching
out to local communities in the targeted villages
of both Assiut and Beni Suef. When the facilitator
reached out to her, Nesma did not have income
at all. “I like sewing a lot. Since I was a little girl, I
remember that I loved watching my aunt sewing.
I even learnt it at school but it was not enough.
I dreamt to have my own income. I did not want
to be a burden on my brother anymore. I want to
generate my own income just like he does”, she
underlines.
Marwa Hussein, Agriculture and Natural
Resources Program Director says, “We believe
that development of Upper Egypt is highly
intertwined with women empowerment. For
this reason, CARE, Egypt works on promoting
income-generating activities to create selfsustained
businesses for women. Women in rural areas still are not actively participating in
economic activities. Lately, with CARE efforts,
women are more engaged in income-generating
activities which has led to better positioning for
women in household decision-making and better
livelihoods for their families.”
The association provided training to accepted
applicants. Nesma received a training on sewing
before handing her a sewing machine. “I started
with sewing two bed sheets. I paid EGP 200 for
the fabrics and the association gave me the
sewing machine worth of EGP 1000”, she says.
“I sold the bed sheets, then made more and more.
I started selling to my sister and neighbors. One
of my neighbors took me to the school where
she works to sell my products to her colleagues.”
Since then, Nesma expanded the network of
her clients and went to several exhibitions to
display her products. “I can earn up to EGP 1000
per month. I am now more experienced when
it comes to buying fabrics and bargaining with
traders”, she adds.
“I dream of expanding my business, building-up a
good reputation around the neighboring villages
and maybe start marketing my products online to
penetrate new markets”, Nesma says.