Home » Dreaming Of Syria » I’m Still Here – Syrian Women Refugees in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan

I’m Still Here – Syrian Women Refugees in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan


al Azmeh – the crisis – is ever-present and inescapable.

The 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 heartbreaking: families that were separated by the war, mothers having no choice but to let their children work, or leaving their children alone at home to go find a way to 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 haunt them.

These are their stories.

Nour | Iraq

Nour – Iraq

“My name is Nour. I’m sixteen years old. I’m a Kurdish woman from Syria. And I’m nine months pregnant. My baby is due any day now. I don’t know the gender of my baby but I really hope it’s going to be a boy, I really do. In this part of the world, it’s not easy to be woman or girl, animals have a better status than us.”

“I got married in 2014 back home in Syria. I’m from Kobani and all my family are still there. I’ve never had a good life before the war. In fact, I’m better off now in many ways than I was before the war back home. I think this is the case for many women here in the camp.”

“My husband’s family knew about the camp before we left Kobani to come here. They were told that we would have a roof over our heads, food allowances and even financial assistance as well as access to doctors and hospitals. These are services that we never knew existed before the war. We didn’t have access to health care back home. I suppose only a few families have been personally affected by the fighting, especially here at the Akre camp.”

“My story is not very different from many other girls of my age. I got married because it is the done thing. Your family decides for you who you’ll get married to. As along as they pay a good price for the bride.”

“My husband left me here in the camp with his mother while he made his way to Europe. I think he is trying to get to Germany or the UK. He left with his brothers and father. We financed their journey to Europe by selling the house we owned back in Syria. Many families do that. They sell everything they have so that the men came make their way to Europe and send money back to us.”

“I haven’t heard from Mustafa since he left. Before he left he told me that he was going to Europe. He wants to make it to Germany. There he wants to find a job and eventually he promised that I’ll be joying him there. This is all I know. This is what he told me. I know there is a possibility that I will never see him again. Maybe his mother knows more than me. She doesn’t tell me much about what is going on. I feel like I’m completely in the dark. She is not a very nice person to me. I don’t know if I’ve done something wrong or why she doesn’t like me. I’m often treated very badly and she shouts at me. I’m like a servant for her. I have to get her food, do all the cooking, cleaning and other chores around the house. Since my husband left I’m very lonely here. My family is not here. And I’m only allowed to leave the house to run errands for the household, otherwise, I’m not allowed to leave unless she is accompanying me.”

“I’m very alone. I can’t wait for my baby to be born. He will bring me so much joy, I will love him and he will love me. But I’m also very concerned about what I’ll be able to offer him and what future we both going to have.”

Samah | Lebanon

Samah – Lebanon

“My name is Samah. I’m married and I have six children. I would do anything for my children, to keep them safe. They are my life. We left Syria because it wasn’t safe for them. No child should experience the inhumanity of war and violence. They shouldn’t be woken up by shells and bombing at night. They should go to school and they should be able to play outside. Safely. This wasn’t possible in Syria anymore. And I couldn’t bear that my children were growing up like this and that their own home couldn’t provide the safety they needed. My youngest children don’t even remember a time before the war and fighting. It’s scary to think that they believe this is what a normal life looks like. We left. We had to leave for them. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be a refugee asking for help every step of the way. But we had no choice. I wanted my children to have at least a chance of a normal life.”

“Here they can go to school and regain some of their innocence. It’s not an ideal situation still because life as a refugee isn’t easy. There isn’t a lot of work available for them men. They haven’t got much to do but we manage. We now live in a disused shop. It’s a little crowded but we are together.”

“The centre has helped me a lot. The first time after our arrival was difficult because we’ve just lost everything and were in a completely different environment where we’re dependent on the help of others. I didn’t know any of the neighbours. But when I found the centre, things started to change. There I found a sense of community. I like the centre so much that I even started to volunteer as a health educator for the centre. At first, I hid my new work with the centre from my husband because at home in Syria I didn’t work. I was a stay at home mother. But he supports me now. I earn a little money and it helps support of family and we can make sure we get all the necessities for the children. Speaking of which, my husband and I have talked about this a lot. I love my children and I wouldn’t mind another one, so does my husband, but right now we decided not to risk a pregnancy. So thanks to the health care provided by the centre I currently using contraception. This is not the time to welcome another baby. Maybe when we’re home in Syria we will discuss it again and decide then.”

Layan | Lebanon

Layan – Lebanon

“We’ve left Syria four years ago and have been here in Lebanon ever since. It’s such a long time. I miss my home. I miss my family and friends. It’s not just our home we lost due to the war but it’s the little thing like a sense of community and belonging, too. At home, you know your neighbours, you know all the roads and streets. There are your friends and family that stop by for tea. You share meals with your family. There’s always someone to call on, to laugh with, to lean on or to support. We were such a close-knit family. Now we are dispersed across the region. I have family that is still in Syria. And I worry about them every day. I talk to them as often as possible to make sure they’re ok. Others are in Turkey, Jordan or Iraq. We have no family here with us in Lebanon. It’s just us. And it’s not easy.”

“It’s very expensive in Lebanon. And the aid we receive often isn’t enough. My husband needs to earn extra but it’s difficult to find work because of the discrimination. In Lebanon, people are reluctant to employ Syrians and the only work the men can get in insecure and low paid. It weighs hard on my husband. And it causes a lot of tension at home too. As does our living situation. We share this home with other Syrian families. They’re not family, we didn’t know them before moving in. And living with so many people in such a small house causes a lot of tension and arguments. There is no privacy. And the house is in such a poor state of repair, too, it’s cold and damp.”

“Healthcare is also very expensive in Lebanon. I didn’t expect it to be this expensive. It’s not easy to find healthcare that’s free for refugees. I’ve had an infection that wasn’t treated in time. My husband is a difficult person sometimes. And because it’s so expensive here he didn’t allow me to see a doctor. Only after my condition worsened he allowed me to seek treatment. I haven’t been cured yet because of the delay in getting the right treatment. Without the centre, maybe I wouldn’t have received any treatment at all. But luckily I was told by a neighbour that they do offer some health care services and that I should go to see if they could help me at all. I’m a little better now.”

“I’m going to the centre a few times a week. Not only to see a nurse but for the company of the other women. They have a lot of classes and many women go to the centre to visit and socialise. I found a sense of community there that I thought I’ve lost. I feel like I belong again. I’ve made friends and we’re helping each other.”

Farah | Lebanon

Farah – Lebanon

“My husband is still in Syria looking after our home and making sure it’s safe. We’re still hopeful that the war will be over sometime soon and that it’ll safe for me to return. I’m in Lebanon on my own. He sent me to Lebanon to stay with my brother to keep me safe. My brother and his family had come to Lebanon a few months before I arrived and had found a place to live. He invited us to come stay with him here. At the time the war in Syria was getting worse by the day. And it wasn’t safe to go out. We discussed leaving our home for a long time. I was torn. I couldn’t bear the fighting and the fair anymore but at the same time, I didn’t want to leave my home either. We’ve worked so hard for it. And it’s a beautiful home. We’re not wealthy people, our home is all we’ve got in the world. My husband felt the same way as I did. He was afraid that if we leave they will plunder our home and take everything that wasn’t sold or taken to Lebanon. So we decided that I will go stay with my brother’s family in Tripoli and he will stay behind and keep our house safe from the thieves. I miss him so much and sometimes I feel very lonely.”

“I still struggle to adjust to my new life in Lebanon. The house I’m sharing with my brother is home to 28 people. It’s very overcrowded. It’s loud. There is no privacy. And we all share one bathroom. You can image what that’s like. Terrible! And of course, there are a lot of arguments because there are so many of us sharing the house. There is always some tension even though we all try our best to get along.”

“But life in Lebanon is hard, and sometimes that gets to us and we lose our patience. I, for instance, don’t receive any support. I’m contributing to the household by looking after the children while the other adults are out working or looking for work. They take on any work. We can’t be fussy about the kind of work, the conditions or pay because there isn’t a lot of work available to Syrians. My in-laws are educated people that could contribute but they are not given the chance to work in their fields. There is a lot of discrimination like this. It’s a very sad situation.”

“A few times a week I’m going to the centre to take my mind off my worries. Some of the children are seeing a social worker there because they’re suffering from their experiences in Syria. They’ve seen so much violence and hardship. While they’re working with a counsellor, I’m either attending a class or I’m socialising with other women. I’ve learnt a lot at the centre. It’s a good place for education and learning a new skill. I’ve improved my sewing skills and can help out by fixing clothes or making blankets. It saves us some money.”

Laleh | Lebanon

Laleh – Lebanon

“My name is Laleh. I have three sons and a daughter. Life as a refugee isn’t easy. Everything is a challenge because we only receive very little in aid. It’s not enough to even pay the rent.”

“My husband has to work but finding work is impossible sometimes. There is a lot of discrimination. We get a lot of street harassment but I’m strong enough to not let that bother me. It’s the discrimination by employers that makes me angry. They either don’t want to employ Syrians or the work is low skilled and low paid. And there is no steady work for Syrians either, it’s all seasonal. Sometimes my husband works but oftentimes he doesn’t. It causes a lot of tension at home because we always worry about money.”

“We used to be happy. We used to have a good life before the war. We weren’t wealthy but we had enough to not have to worry about money all the time. I don’t know what the future holds for us. We don’t plan ahead anymore. We just try to get by day by day. Without the confidence to look forward to a better future, I do sometimes feel like a piece of my humanity is missing.”

“I have four children who I love very much. They’re my world. I keep going for them.”

“Since leaving Syria I’ve been pregnant but chose to have an abortion. It was a difficult decision because I believe each child is a blessing. But what life would this child have had? This child would have only known life as a refugee. He wouldn’t have had a home. Not even memories of a home and of a carefree childhood like my other children. It’s not the time to bring more children into this world. Not if you’re a refugee. Contraception is a taboo in our society that nobody talks about. But we cannot afford another child. Since the abortion, I’m using contraceptives that I get from the centre. Having to have an abortion was very sad. I don’t want to have to go through that again. That’s why my husband and I are using condoms.”

“I worry about the future of my children every day. I try my hardest to give my children the best start in life. I believe education is important but the official Lebanese schools are discriminating our children. We are now sending our children to an unofficial school. Most students there are Syrian. And my children are much happier there but unfortunately they won’t receive any certificates because the school isn’t recognised.”

Yara | Turkey

Yara -Turkey

“We wanted to stay at home. But then the war come too close. And it was too dangerous for all us. Two years ago we arrived in Turkey. It’s much safer now, but we don’t want to stay. We want to go back to Syria. Syria is our home. Here, we are guests. And we don’t feel welcome here because there is a lot of discrimination towards Syrians. The Turks are openly hostile towards us. We really want to leave Turkey. It’s terrible here. It’s so cold during the winter. And our house is very basic. We have no heating just one stove. And it’s draughty and damp.”

“Life here isn’t easy because of the discrimination and hostility we face on a daily basis. Syrians are treated very badly. And the relations between the Syrians and the local community is very tense. The Turks are very suspicious of us. They don’t know how hard our life is or how badly we want to go home. Every day I’m insulted by locals because I’m Syrian. Sometimes it’s difficult to go out because of the abuse that is shouted at me by strangers.”

“My husband doesn’t work often. When he does, it’s not for long and always for very little money. But we have four children that we need to provide for. Our money worries cause a lot of

tension and we argue about money a lot. My husband always complains that I spent too much on groceries. I try to make the most of what we have available but sometimes the shopkeepers and market traders are overcharging me because I’m Syrian. I try to shop around to get the best prices but we struggle to get my on our income.”

“Some time ago I picked up a leaflet about a community centre for women in the market. I liked the idea and I discussed with my husband if it was a good idea for me to visit the centre. He said I should go and find out more. It took me by surprise to see so many other Syrian women, young and older. I felt welcomed right away. It’s a place where I’m able to talk to someone about my difficulties that I’m going through. It has helped me understand myself as well as my family better. I’m now better equipped to deal with tension and arguments. We don’t have a bad marriage but we have a lot of worries and I now know how to step back and discuss our finances in particular without losing my temper. Here, you can participate in different classes such as knitting, sewing, cooking and also courses teaching Turkish. The government and aid agencies are very keen on promoting these courses because speaking Turkish would help us integrate better. Maybe it would help ease community tensions, too. But it’s really important for the children because lessons are taught in Turkish and not Arabic. And my children will fall behind even further if they don’t learn Turkish. They have already missed out on education because of the war. Many Syrian children are doing very badly at school because of their poor Turkish language skills. My children are learning Turkish at the centre and I have already seen some improvement at school since they started. But they are still struggling. They have been out of school for some time because of the war and have difficulties catching up. They also tell me that they’re being bullied by Turkish children on their way to school. We work very hard to fit in, and are even learning Turkish to be able to communicate better but they’re still giving us a hard time. At the moment, the centre is the only place where we can find some respite.”

Husna | Turkey

Husna – Turkey

“My name is Husna. I’m 46 years old and a widow. My husband passed away soon after we arrived in Turkey. He wanted to be buried at home in Syria but unfortunately, we couldn’t fulfil his last wish.”

“My hometown is Al-Raqqa. We had a good but humble life. Not a lot of luxuries but we were happy. My husband and I have 6 children. I have five boys and one girl. The boys have all graduated in engineering and construction. I’m very proud of them but unfortunately, none of them has a regular job because of the war and the terrible economy at the moment. They are sometimes able to find some work, but it’s insecure, seasonal work and it’s poorly paid.”

“A year ago, I picked up a leaflet while I was at the market running errands. It was about the Women’s Community Centre and as soon as I got home I discussed this new find with my girl. And we both decided to visit this place at least once to find out more. And it was such a revelation for both of us. Have I mentioned that I come from a very humble background? I’m proud that my sons have had a very good education and went to university but I didn’t have a chance to go to school myself. I got married when I was very young. I now know that it was far too early for us to get married when I was only fifteen. But back then we didn’t know and it was the done thing at the time for many couples. I don’t think many people knew when it’s the right time to get married.”

“The centre is really good. They offer many different courses and activities. At the moment I’m learning to read and write to improve my literacy skills. I’m also taking cooking lessons where I’m learning how to make savings and learn about how to make the most of our resources. And I’m also learning how to knit. I’m really enjoying myself learning a new skill that allows me to make many different things for my family myself rather than having to buy them. With all the centre has to offer I’m also starting to understand myself better. I can meet with other women who have similar problems and learning new skills I know that I have lots to offer.”

Fatme | Turkey

Fatme – Turkey

“My name is Fatma. I’m a 44-year-old mother of eight children. I have four sons and four daughters. I’m from Derez-zor. My oldest son is still in Syria and was arrested a little while back. I pray to god every day that Omar is safe and doing well. My oldest daughter Aisha has a learning disability, and sometimes I find a little difficult to cope with her these days. I struggle.”

“We have been in Turkey for the last three years now. Our life here hasn’t been too bad, but we miss our Syria. We miss it every day. We can’t wait for the war to be over. We will be the first to return. I’m not the only one saying this, many of us would like to go back, but still too dangerous right now.”

“The Community Women’s Centre has become a very popular place to meet other Syrian women over here. I think at first we were all bit apprehensive about it, not knowing what to expect. But once you go there and see what type of facilities they offer, it becomes very clear that the centre could help work through the trauma and the stress we experience living in exile. They also offer many classes ranging from literacy to hairdressing as well as knitting but most importantly the opportunity to discuss your problems with therapists and social workers. It really helps to understand in how to cope with stress and at the same time how to help other members of the family, especially with my boys including my husband, with theirs.”

“The boys, not just mine, are having a tough time. In Turkey, it’s not possible to apply for a work permit. Syrians are not allowed to work. They do sometimes get a bit of casual work, mainly labour and construction. Their pay varies but very hardly every any more than 100 Turkish Lira per week. Though the pay is bad, the work keeps them busy. As long as they work and feel useful we’re not doing too badly. We might even have a laugh and enjoy ourselves but still, our thoughts are always with our beloved Syria.”

“My youngest daughter is also enjoying the facilities at the centre. She’s now learning two languages, Turkish and English, and also she taking hairdressing lessons. She is determined to learn a trade and get an education.”

Aisha | Turkey

Aisha – Turkey

Aisha is 47 years old and from Aleppo. Aisha is married with nine children. She has six boys and three girls. Her daughters are married and they also have children.

The family left Aleppo two years ago. They didn’t want to leave their home but the fighting in and around Aleppo was getting worse. Life in their hometown was becoming unbearable.

“We are safe now and don’t have to fear for our lives but we miss our country.”

The apartment the family shares has three rooms and is home to 18 people. “With so many people living in such a small home there is no privacy and it can be very stressful at times. But thanks to the Women’s Community Centre, my general wellbeing has improved and I’m better prepared to deal with the stress and tension of an overcrowded home. I visit the centre every morning at the moment. At the centre, I try to reconnect with myself. There I’m able to relax and try to have some quality time with the other women that attend the centre.”

“I’m taking different classes at the centre. And I’m learning to read and write, too. I’ve also become very interested in reproductive health. After a lifetime of being married with nine children, I have now gained a better understanding of how the body of a woman works. Before I visited the community centre regularly I didn’t know much about my body. Now I do. I also try to help other women in coping with the everyday challenges of life here in Turkey. I know that life away from your family and community can sometimes be very hard. And we can support each other to make it a little easier.”

Ameena | Lebanon

Ameena – Lebanon

“My name is Ameena. I’m Syrian-Lebanese and I’m a refugee. Our life as refugees is not easy. And though I’m part Lebanese, they think of me as a Syrian refugee first and foremost.”

“Lebanon is very expensive. When I speak I sound Syrian, and in Lebanon, there is a lot of animosity towards Syrians. There is a lot of discrimination, which makes it difficult to find a job. Any kind of job, nevermind a skilled job that requires qualifications or extensive training. A lot of people cannot find work in their field, even though they are qualified and experienced. The only work we can get in low skilled and seasonal work. And especially women get treated very badly. I’ve heard of many Syrian women who once they found work, they were harassed by their employers and they quit soon afterwards. It’s terrible. There is also a lot of street harassment. But it’s almost impossible to manage without work in Lebanon. The living expenses are very high, much higher than they ever were in Syria. And there is hardly any aid for Syrian refugees. Sometimes we don’t have enough money to buy food or other essentials. We are always scrambling to find enough money for the rent. Sometimes we have to borrow money just to get by.”

“I also have cancer. And health care in Lebanon is so expensive it is out of reach for me. I receive no treatment at the moment. I don’t know how I’m supposed to carry on. My healthcare is not covered by any of the aid agencies. In Syria before the war, this would not have been a problem. Healthcare and cancer treatments were available to everybody who needed it. But the war changed all that. There are hardly any hospitals open to the public anymore. And those that are still serving the public don’t have the facilities to treat life-altering or terminal conditions. I didn’t have a choice but leave Syria hoping I could access treatment abroad. And now that I’m in Lebanon I’m still not able to access the medical treatments that I urgently need.”

“Coming to the centre takes my mind off my problems for a short while. It’s a place where I can forget that I’m poorly or problems at home like finding enough money for this month’s rent or how to make the most of the few groceries I bought. I can meet other women here. I made some good friends that I can talk to and sometimes we laugh. We get together and cook together for our families. I also see a social worker at the centre who is working with me and who advises me on where I could get some assistance. It’s also good for education, classes and sewing. The centre offers a lot of facilities and activities. And has helped a lot of the women here, including me.”

Muna | Iraq

Muna – Iraq

Muna is a single young woman. She is 30 years old and from Damascus.

“I had a normal life before the war. I used to work at an Adidas retailer in Damascus. I enjoyed working there. I like working with people and I like the fashion, too. It was a good job that paid well, too. It now seems like such a long time ago. Like a different life. I was looking forward to my future and the life I pictured that I would have. I thought I’d get married within a few years and have a family of my own. I don’t think this is going to happen anytime soon now. My life is very different now. Until the last day in Damascus, I didn’t want to leave home. Because it’s home. Despite everything that’s been going on. The war. The fighting. The sieges. The bombings. No food. No electricity. Abductions. Despite everything we’ve lost because of the war, our home was the last thing that was still ours. It’s where we felt we belonged. But now the whole family is dispersed across the region.”

“I left because my brother needed urgent medical care. He suffers from kidney failure and there were no medical facilities or hospitals left in Damascus. Hospitals had been bombed and many medics have left because it was too dangerous to practice or they’ve seen too many colleagues die while helping civilians. But my brother’s condition worsened and we needed to leave before he was getting too ill to travel. Here in Domiz he can get treatment because healthcare is available and free. Coming here and leaving home saved my brother’s life. So I’m glad we came.”

“Until we can go back home again, I try to keep myself busy. I’m now working with the centre as a volunteer social worker because I like working with people and helping others. It’s one way of giving back and making myself useful. Volunteering also gives me purpose while I’m here and I’m now looking more confidently into the future. I’m also taking part in the tailoring classes the centre runs. Hopefully, the war won’t last long now and when we do get back I’m dreaming of opening a successful shop in Damascus.”

Dina | Jordan

Dina – Jordan

“I arrived with my husband and three children two years ago from Syria. Our life in Syria before the war was good but that’s a long time ago now. Before we left, during the war in Syria, it was very hard for us. There is suffering everywhere. So much violence. It’s senseless violence. I begged my husband to leave. I didn’t feel safe and I was worried about my children. I just wanted them to grow up in safety and have the chance to be children as long as possible.”

“In Syria, the children had to witness horrific scenes. They grow up and harden too soon. My children had to learn about death very early on because close relatives had been killed, even cousins their own age. Children who they used to play with in our neighbourhood. They’ve seen my husband and me argue about bills. They’ve seen the tensions rise. Our relationship suffered a lot. My husband didn’t want to leave our home. He worked so hard to build it for us that he couldn’t bear leave it. First, he worked two jobs to have enough money for the building materials. Then he helped build it after work, too. In the end, he agreed to leave. There’s not much work because of the war and we already struggled. I think had we stayed longer we wouldn’t have been able to afford to leave. Still, we had to sell so many things to get here.”

“We’ve been here for two years now. I think my husband regrets coming out. There isn’t any work here either but I remind him often that at least we’re safe, at least the children can go to school, at least they still have a chance for a better life. I was so worried about what would become of my children had we stayed in Syria without safety, without school and without prospects. There is no hope there. Not now. At least we can still hope. I hope we can return to Syria soon. When it’s safe again. I know my husband understands this but he has a difficult time adjusting still. There still is a lot of tension between us. Especially because it was me who convinced him to leave Syria.”

“I’ve been visiting the centre for a while now. I heard neighbours talk about it and decided to see for myself. It’s good. There’s a lot to do there. But I mainly go to see a counsellor there. She helps me with my problems, especially with my husband. It helps a lot and life is a little better because of that. I also attend some of the classes and I’m learning new skills. I like it. I wish there was something like this for my husband to go to, too.”

Sabreen | Jordan

Sabreen – Iraq

“My name is Sabreen. I am a fourteen-year-old girl from Hasakah in Syria. We left home about a year ago. And we came to Duhok because when we left Da’esh was getting closer and my parents were very worried.”

“Soon after we arrived I got married. My mother wasn’t very pleased and against my marriage. I don’t think she liked the man I was engaged to but the sister of my future husband was very persuasive. She convinced me that everything was going to work out and that her brother really was a good guy who would take good care of me.”

“He was a 19-year-old man and he wasn’t bad looking. But the night of our wedding he wasn’t very kind to me. I thought it was due to the excitement of the wedding. I have tried to explain and asked him to be more gentle but he didn’t listen. Our relationship went from bad to worse very quickly. And within weeks of our wedding he started to hit me, he forced himself on me several times. He was like an animal. It hurt so much that I was bleeding but he didn’t care and he laughed at me.”

“He didn’t allow me to leave the house. And those few times I was able to go out I was forced to wear a burka. My mother wasn’t allowed to come and visit me even though we didn’t live very far away from her. I think she knew it what was happening to me. I’m not the only bride to going through such an ordeal. Far too many girls are experiencing the same thing but no one is doing anything about it, sometimes not even their own families. A girl is often seen as a burden in this part of the world.”

“My marriage only lasted four months but during that time I was abused every day, sometimes even four times a day. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I felt that I needed to do something. One night, I excused myself saying I was going to toilet but I ran to my mother and my family. I never went back to my husband and I was able to get divorced. But he spread terrible rumours about me and my family. My divorce brought shame on my family. My dad and my brothers are very ashamed of me. They don’t care about what happen to me, they only care about the honour and reputation of the family.”

“Because everything that happened to me, and because my own family is ashamed of me, I tried to kill myself. Tried to set myself alight with heating fuel but my mother was quick to respond and she saved my life. I now spent a lot of time at home. I don’t even want to leave the house anymore. People talk about me and I don’t want to see anyone.”

Lamees | Lebanon

Lamees – Lebanon

“Our house here in Lebanon is cheap but it’s not suitable for habitation, really. It’s cold. It’s damp. It’s dirty. The roof leaks when it’s raining. It’s draughty. In winter it’s just unbearable. The room we rent is so expensive but very basic. We have no heating. It’s very cold. And because of the damp, there is mould. I try to clean the room best I can but the mould keeps coming back. I’m concerned because it does affect our health.”

“This house is nothing like our home in Syria. We had a lovely house. It was beautiful. We had a lot of space and we worked hard to furnish it just the way we liked. We enjoyed having guests around for tea or family meals. But we can’t here. It’s cold and it’s overcrowded. The centre helped my understand the importance of hygiene. You really need to be extra vigilant if you live in substandard accommodation like we do. It’s embarrassing because we are not dirty people. But my daughter had an infection and she received treatment at the centre. And we also learned how to prevent UTIs and other ailments in the future.”

“I’m a strong person. I’m looking after the other ladies who visit the centre. You could say I’m a Shaweesh (a community leader). I like to give back. And I enjoy working with people. I help the centre reach out to other women in the neighbourhood who may benefit from the services the centre offers. It really is a good place. I’m working as a volunteer but I’m also taking classes to improve my skills. I hope it’ll help me find work here in Lebanon.”

“There isn’t much work for Syrians. My husband takes on any job that he can find but there isn’t much available to Syrians. Sometimes he doesn’t work. We often have to borrow money. But now we’re behind with the rent and the landlord is very upset. So everybody needs to pitch in and try to find work. Any work. And even though I didn’t work in Syria, I hope that the skills I’m picking up in the centre by volunteering and by attending classes that I can improve my chances of finding work.”

Iman | Turkey

Iman – Turkey

“My name is Iman. I’m a 35 years old woman from Al-Raqqa. I’m married and I have three children, two girls who are five and eight years old and a boy who is ten. We arrived in Turkey earlier this year.”

“Back home we had a decent life. We weren’t rich but we were doing ok. We are now sharing this flat with three families. There are 16 people living in this flat. And sometimes it gets a bit too much, especially when there is tension in a room nearby. Sometimes it is us causing tension in the apartment. It’s very difficult at times with so many people living in a small flat. My husband doesn’t have a steady job. When he does work he gets paid very little but it’s usually enough to get some food and sometimes even sweets for the children. The children are attending the local school and they are doing well there.”

“A few months ago, by chance, I was talking to one of my friends, another Syrian woman. There are several Syrians families around this part of town, most of them live in overcrowded homes. Her family also has to share a home with others and we were talking about the problems this causes and how difficult it can be. During our conversation, she mentioned the Women’s Community Centre. I was a bit sceptical at first, but after a few visits, I started to really enjoy going there. All the women there are from different parts of Syria. It’s nice, it’s very therapeutic there.”

“We’ve all been through similar tragedies. We all have stories to tell about our loved ones and homes lost. Some stories are worse than others but we comfort and support each other.”

Fatma | Turkey

Fatma – Turkey

“I am Fatma. I’m a 43-year-old mother and wife. I’ve been married for a very long time. I think I was thirteen when I got married. We were both far too young. Ibrahim was not even seventeen years old. And we became parents soon after the wedding, too. Since then we had seven children, four boys and three girls.”

“Our life in Syria was good. But then there were these extremists moving in. And everything changed literally overnight. Suddenly they started to murder a lot of good people in a horrendous way. They claimed it was all done in the name of Allah! Disgrace to them! They are nothing but animals. They are worshiping Iblees. They are the children of Shaitaan! What they do has nothing to do with Islam or any other religion!”

“Islam is peace. It demands respect for your fellow men and women. This is what I know. This is what we were told when we were growing up, and it is what we taught out children. And I know it’s what my children will teach their children, too.”

“We escaped when we had the chance. But now we now stuck here. We share this apartment with another three families. We try our hardest to get on with each other but sometimes arguments and disagreements can escalate very quickly. We all very tense.

“The men don’t have steady jobs. When they are getting a bit of work they earn very little. We can’t help it. This is what our life is like for now. And this is where we belong for the time being but as soon as things are improving in Syria we will be going back home.”

Ameera | Turkey

Ameera – Turkey

“I’m Ameera. I’m 28 years old. I got married when I was thirteen. My father decided that it would be good for the family if I got married.”

“I’ve been married for so long but I’m so young still. I don’t remember much of my life before marriage. I’m not sure what it was like before. Before the war. before marriage. It’s very painful actually. This life is all I know. And I find it very, very difficult, mentally and physically.”

“I’ve been married now for 15 years. I’m 28 years old and I have six children. My oldest is fourteen and my youngest is only two years old. She was born here in Turkey.”

“Before the war, life was hard. My husband’s family were farmers, which is a lot of work. Our life was hard but also rewarding. We had a decent life. We had television and a fridge and a comfortable bed to warm us the winter. But then the war took everything away from us. We tried to stay for as long as we could. My husband’s family feels very connected to their land. But it was getting too dangerous because Daesh was getting closer. We heard stories of people getting killed horribly and children being torched alive. We couldn’t risk it anymore, so we came to live here in Turkey.”

“We thought we’d be safe here. And yes, I suppose we are, but now we feel dead inside. I can’t see any future for us here. Work is very difficult to come by. And the kids don’t want to go to school because they are bullied by the Turkish kids. They call them names and make fun of them. The girls are in danger of being harassed or sexually assaulted on the way to school, even at school! I get insulted and harassed at the bazaar every day. They shout sexual slurs at me. It makes me fee dirty. A few times, someone has even groped me when the market was particularly busy. I now go when it’s not so busy but I miss out on the good produce and the best prices.”

“One day by chance I came across a leaflet about the community centre. I went to find out more and was surprised how good it was. When I go, I can feel like myself again for a few hours and forget about my problems. Here, I’ve also learned about child marriage. Someone suggested I go to a workshop because I have a teenage daughter. And there I learned about the dangers early marriage can pose to the mental health of a girl but also physically. I even understand myself better now because I got married so very young myself. I hope that I’ll be strong enough to make sure my daughters won’t marry as young as I did.”

Hiba | Tureky

Hiba – Turkey

“My name is Hiba. I’m Syrian girl and 15 years old.”

“I’m dreaming of studying medicine, but I’m not sure whether I’ll ever be able to become a doctor. Recently my dad is getting a lot of marriage requests for me.”

“Thanks to my mother and one of my brothers my father hasn’t accepted any of them yet. For now, my mother and brother have been able to stall the process. But I’m worried that if someone makes a crazy offer that it may be difficult for my father to dismiss such a proposal out of hand. I’m afraid one day he will seriously consider marriage for me. I knew there are many girls my age back home in Syria that get married early. They are given away by their fathers for a handsome dowry and some are even sold for a herd of goats. I know that they make terrible experiences. They are trapped in their house and are abused physically and psychologically by their husbands and mothers in law.”

“At the women’s community centre, I’m taking classes to learn Turkish. And next year I really would like to enrol myself at a regular school here in Turkey. I like the centre a lot, I had been able to convince my mum to come here, too. She is learning new skills, and now she learning how to knit. And most of all she is able to talk to other women. I think it’s doing her good. Also, the centre is very much against early marriage and raises awareness amongst the Syrian community about the physical and psychological dangers of early marriage.”

“I wish there was something like it for my dad and for my brothers too.”

Isra'a | Jordan

Isra’a – Jordan

“There was so much violence. I was so scared. I never felt safe anymore. It’s a horrible feeling when you don’t feel safe in your own home. It’s the one place that should shelter you, where you’re safe, always, where nobody could do you any harm. But with time going by, I don’t think the war is going to end anytime soon, I couldn’t bear staying at home anymore.”

“My only concern is for my children. They are the sole reason I decided to leave. The bombardment was haphazard – there were absolutely no certain timings for it to take place. The shelling was unbearable, especially for our children. They were so scared. There was no way to say where the next shell would come from. I couldn’t live like that anymore.”

“Bombardments and hiding away in a shelter should not be normal everyday occurrences for my children. In the shelter, there was no water or electricity – it was pitch black. The children were exhausted, thirsty and hungry. We always took food to the shelter but it always ran out too soon. Once we stayed for a week in the shelter and were then forced to leave to get food and water. We risked bullets to feed our family. I’m most worried about my children. What have they done to deserve this? The only way to keep them safe was to leave Syria. With my own eyes, I have seen children’s bodies dead and covered with sand in my town. I feel as if every dead child was my own. We tried to save whoever we could and the rest we dug out from the rubble with our own hands.”

“I feel as though Syria is fading away because of this inhumanity. You can’t imagine what I have seen. What Syria has seen. And I worry that my children won’t recover, that their pain will never stop.”

“The centre has been helping me a lot. I work with a social worker to process what we have experienced in Syria. I’ve also met a lot of other women here at the centre. I have made friends and we socialise. It helps us a lot to talk to other Syrian women who have had similar experiences. I have learned that many of the women have experienced severe trauma, much worse than me. And I wanted to help them. I became a volunteer educator at the centre. It distracts me from my problems which fade in comparison to what others have lived through. It helps me put everything into perspective. Volunteering also gives me purpose. I enjoy helping others. And it’s very rewarding to see women who have been very closed off and timid at first, open up and regain a new outlook on life.”

Maryam | Iraq

Maryam – Iraq

“I’ve just had a baby. My son Ziad is only a few weeks old. The birth of a child should be a happy occasion but it’s been and still is a very difficult time for us. My son was born a few weeks premature. It was very scary. I was so afraid. I knew it was too early for him to be born when I started having contractions. We didn’t think twice about going to the hospital, we went straight away. I knew sometimes they could try to make the contractions stop, to give him more time before he’s born, but they said that was not possible in my case. I had to go through natural labour. It took a very long time.”

“And every second of it, I was scared for his life. It was a terrible experience. I don’t remember the pain so much but the fear. I didn’t want him to be born just yet. I wanted to keep him safe a little while longer. But my body was in labour and there was nothing I or anyone could do about it.”

“When he was born I didn’t see him right away because he was so tiny. They took him to NICU. I was traumatised. I just had my beautiful baby but I didn’t even get to see him because he was so poorly. I just saw a glimpse of him while they were rushing him away. He was very small but beautiful. I desperately wanted to see him but I also wanted him to be safe.”

“Soon after the delivery, I was discharged and they presented us with a bill for the delivery and neonatal care. I couldn’t believe how expensive it was. By that time I hadn’t even seen my baby yet because they wouldn’t let me. We didn’t have that kind of money and didn’t know what to do. Nobody prepares you for that. Even if my son had been a term baby, the delivery would have been unaffordable for us. Maybe I would have decided to have a home birth in that situation. We had to borrow money from my parents and neighbours to pay the bills. Now we’re in debt.”

“My son is at home with us now. He was discharged a little earlier than they would’ve liked but we’re not in a position to pay. Our home is not the best place for a vulnerable infant. Every day I worry that he may catch something. And winter is coming. I’m very concerned. I’m glad he’s with me now, though. I love him so much. Considering what he’s been through, he doing very well. Unfortunately, I found it difficult to establish breastfeeding because we’ve been separated for so long. They fed him formula in the hospital and it stuck. I didn’t have a pump and didn’t know how to express by hand, not this soon after delivery before the milk comes in anyway. I think it’s also the worry and anxiety I had that made it difficult for me to establish breastfeeding. I feel terribly guilty about it. I would have loved to be able to feed him because I know that’s what best for him, especially since he’s premature. The formula is an extra expense, and we can’t really afford it. Some days I go without food just to make sure we have enough money to get formula for my son.”

“The centre has helped me a lot after the delivery. I was able to get postnatal care and they helped me trying to breastfeed. I’m still trying, I’m hoping to be able to reduce the formula bottles. I’m also working with a social worker to make sure I don’t develop postnatal depression or an anxiety disorder. I’ve also met other women who recently had a baby and we share our experiences and worries. Talking about what we’ve been through with my son does help me a lot. And that I am grateful for.”

Munira | Jordan

Munira – Jordan

“My name is Munira. I’m 24 years old. I have a son. I live with my in-laws because my husband has left me for another woman soon after we arrived from Syria. Not only have I lost my home and my country, and left my family behind in Syria, my son and I are now all alone.”

“Living with my in-laws is awkward but I don’t have any family here. I have no one else but my husband’s family. Being separated from your husband is a terrible stigma. It’s not safe for a single woman here. They are very kind to let us live with them. They are very supportive when they don’t have to be and I’m very grateful for that. Considering what happened between my husband and me, we’re getting along very well.”

“They are encouraging me to remarry, though. I suppose that in some way I’m a burden to them even though they don’t say so directly. But I’m not ready to remarry. I still feel betrayed and hurt.”

“I’m going to the centre to see a social worker there who helps me through all of this. I also made friends with some of the women when I took a class in knitting. I’ve learned how to make warm baby clothes for my boy. And it was easier to make friends while we were learning and complaining when things were a bit tricky! Going to the centre and meeting my new friends helps me to rebuild my confidence. I slowly feel stronger. Being left by my husband really knocked me down. Emotionally but it also left me financially dependent on my in-laws. That really made me angry and helpless. But here at the centre, I can also learn new skills like tailoring that will help me be financially independent. And that’s priceless. I can make a little money as a seamstress doing little jobs for other women. Being able to make a small contribution towards the household makes me feel more capable and independent.”

Ghada | Lebanon

Ghada – Lebanon

“I don’t want to go back home! Not now. We’ve endured so much. We lived through the Ghouta attack yet we stayed.”

“The bombs were pouring like rain. We used to run in fear every time a plane soared overhead, bombs falling on no particular target but with a vengeance. When the bombs strike, even if they’re several kilometres away, entire buildings rumble and the windows shatter. It’s the noise that frightened us the most, the noise of humming engines and explosions overhead.”

“We never knew where they’d hit next. It could’ve been my house; it could’ve been my parents’ or one of my sister’s house. The week before we left, it was my the house of my brother-in-law who lived just down the street from us. Then it was ours. I still remember the day my house was bombed and how her mother-in-law pushed us and the children into a taxi, urging us to escape to safety! It’s devastating to know that we don’t have a home to go back to when the war is over. It breaks my heart.”

“And when we arrived in the camp, in August 2013, we didn’t bring anything with us. Just the clothes on our backs. We had nothing. It was a difficult time. The children and I, we were in a dark place. But slowly we’ve been working hard to build a life here. I’m making sure that my children go to school. It’s very important that they get a good education. One day they will be the ones who will rebuild Syria.”

“The women’s centre has helped me a lot in working through my depression. I had lost so much that I didn’t go out and lost my temper with the children. I had no patience. I was very angry and anxious. I used to see a social worker at the centre but I’m coping so much better now. I’m now even working as a health educator for the centre. I enjoy my work. I like working with people and I know my work can make a big difference in someone’s life. It feels good to make this positive contribution. It feels good to be needed. And the money I’m earning helps support my family.”

Yasmeen | Turkey

Yasmeen – Turkey

“My name is Yasmeen. I was born in Aleppo as were my parents. We had a good life before the war. We had a nice house, I miss it. We were very close as a family and we were happy. But one morning three years ago, I lost everything. The bombs and shells hit indiscriminately. We had been concerned about it for some time. We spent so many nights in a shelter. I was always so afraid.”

“A bomb hit our house directly and everyone who was inside at the time died. My husband. My two daughters. And my three sons. My whole family just perished. I missed them so much. They were my life. Every night I ask God to take me away. To, please, take to them. I’m already dead inside anyway. I wish I was strong enough to do it myself.”

“After that morning, I fled Syria together with relatives. I stayed with them when we first arrived in Turkey. But I was a burden to them. Not just because I was an extra mouth to feed but also because I was in a deep depression after losing my family. I couldn’t help out much. I didn’t leave the house and I didn’t talk for months. My sister in law took me to the community centre because she heard that they could help people like me there. I started seeing a therapist. It does help me cope with the loss of my family in a healthier way. I can mourn them now.”

“I’m remarried now to a much older man. He is a good man. But we are not in love. He is also lonely. We met because he also lost his family during the war. We are both alone. They say that God makes a plan for everyone. I suppose that this is what he had in mind for us – to keep each other company.”

Aya | Jordan

Aya – Jordan

“My name is Aya. I’m 25 years old. I’m married with three children. Only my children and I are in Zaatari. My husband is still in Syria.”

“We don’t want to be a refugee. I just want my children to be safe. The war has affected them deeply. It makes me sad. At night, I watch them sleep and I cry. Honestly, I have no more strength. I don’t care about myself. I care about my children and how they are coping. There is nobody to help me. I have no one. My parents are dead. There is nowhere I can go. All I want is for my husband to join me here in Jordan but he is stuck in Syria.”

“It was a very difficult decision to leave our home. We are farmers. We lived off the land. We are connected to the land. But we had no choice. My husband sent me and the children to Jordan after my parent’s house was destroyed. Everybody in it died. My parents and my brother and his family. The children and I left with only a few bags the following day. My husband stayed behind to sell the what he could to raise money for our new life as refugees. That was a few months ago. But the fighting intensified and Da’esh destroyed his documents when he tried to pass a checkpoint. Without papers, he was turned away at the border. He’s now stuck at the border – in the middle of the desert – with hundreds and hundreds of families.”

“I’m distraught. I miss him so much. At first, the children are asking about their father every day. They’ve seen so much violence that they are afraid their father could be dead! It’s heartbreaking. I tell them every day that soon he will be with us. I tell them that he loves them.”

“The centre helps me a lot. It’s a safe place where I can take the children. I can socialise there too. I don’t feel as lonely when I go. I’ve made some good friends and that gives me hope.”

Dima | Jordan

Dima – Jordan

“My name is Dima. I’m a widow. My husband died in Syria about two years ago. He died of heart failure. The doctors in Syria couldn’t treat him. The hospitals aren’t equipped to treat life treating conditions anymore. And most of the doctors and nurses have left the country. My husband would have required a heart transplant but when his condition suddenly worked it was too late for us to leave in order to seek treatment elsewhere. The doctors said he was too ill to travel. It was too late. Our suffering started that day.”

“I have four children that I now have to raise myself. I miss my husband every day. He loved his children and was very proud of them. He had big dreams for them. My boys are smart, and he was always saying that Ameer would one day become a doctor and Saeed an engineer. My girls are very creative, and he was sure that Rania would one day be a famous artist and Asmaa a musician. He knew he was dying and the last thing he asked me to make sure our children are safe so that they can fulfil their dreams.”

“I asked my parents to come to Jordan with me after he passed. Here, they are safe and they can go to school. They can play outside without fear. I’m glad we came. I just wish my husband could be here with us. I miss him so much but I have to be strong for the children.”

“After I arrived, I heard about the centre. I was curious but didn’t know what to expect. I like it coming to the centre. I forget my worries. Being a single parent is very stressful and here I can get some respite. When we arrived I was mourning my husband, of course, but I was also very withdrawn. My mother was so concerned for me. I’m much better since I’m seeing a social worker. She helps me understand my sorrow and helps me deal with my everyday problems, too. And I’m also taking part in some of the classes. It distracts me a little. I’m a better parent, not as depressed but more patient and understanding since I started visiting the centre regularly.”

Aisha | Turkey

Aisha – Turkey

Aisha is 29 and married with no children. She left Idlib, Syria three years ago. At first, they were taken to Telabyad RC. “We stayed there for just over a week, but life there was really bad. The services at the camp were bad. There were a lot of stray dogs and a lot of rats in the camp. At night we used to hear the rats roaming inside the tent. And in the mornings we would find the droppings. It was just too much to cope.”

“When we arrived we brought all our savings with us, so we were eventually able to rent a room in a house, which we share with four other families. It’s a very crowded environment and very volatile situation. There’s always an argument among the families at least once or twice a week. These arguments often get almost out of control. But we’re living on top of each other and the facilities in the apartment are very basic. We all need to share one toilet and a small kitchen. There may not be any rats or stray dogs around me that create an unhygienic environment and stress me out but now we suffer another type of stress living in this crowded house.”

“I got pregnant some time ago but unfortunately I lost the baby. That was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. To lose my baby was even worse than the war. I experienced problems in the first trimester. I felt something was wrong when I had a strange feeling inside me. I knew that something wasn’t quite right. At the time, my husband wasn’t at home. He was trying to find some work. And I had to go to the hospital alone. I waited a long time before I was able to see a midwife. During the consultation, she told me that there was a serious complication with my baby. It was an ectopic pregnancy and the midwife told me that I need to have an emergency operation otherwise I could have lost my life. Within minutes I was taken to theatre and my stomach was cut open without anaesthetic.”

“The pain was terrible. I thought I was dying. And within an hour of the operation I was discharged from the hospital. I was still bleeding, I didn’t even have enough money on me to get home and I took me very long time to walk home.”

“Once I got home and told my husband that I lost the baby and it would be more difficult for me to get pregnant again after the operation. He got very upset about the way I was treated in the hospital, that I was alone and that he wasn’t able to be with me when I lost the baby. Like me, he is very sad that our baby is gone. And I’m so afraid that it might happen again that I cannot get close to my husband. We would like to have a baby but I’m just so scared because of my experience in the hospital.”

“The women’s centre here has been very good to me and helped me through a difficult time. But we’re not just socialising, I’m attending classes to improve my literacy skills, and I’m also taking cooking classes and learning how to use a sewing machine. Although the centre is really good the resources are limited.”