Nawal smiles at the camera while her daughter looks at a smart phone Nawal is holding.
© UNHCR/Mohammad Hawari
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How it feels to take part in Connecting Worlds

Four donors share their experience connecting with refugees through the world-first app

For the third year, Leading Women Fund members used the Connecting Worlds app to exchange messages with Syrian refugee women in Jordan. Here, four members describe the special relationships they developed with women the Fund is supporting through cash assistance.

Clare Hamman, Sydney

“Taking part in the Connecting Worlds app was a beautiful, uplifting and humbling experience. I hadn’t participated before and requested four weeks initially, but changed to six weeks as I felt I needed more time to get to know my match. Then she requested eight weeks – so we did that!

“We connected over children, although she has a five year old and mine are now grown up. But we had lots of other shared interests, too, such as fitness and recipes. She loved to write and take photographs, so I encouraged her to send them to me, as a way of supporting her. I didn’t ask about her background, but one day she said, ‘I’m a very sad person,’ and, when I asked why, she revealed her difficult family situation and the abuse she faced daily. She felt trapped.

“There were times when I was in tears at her messages, and I felt helpless, but I tried to keep the mindset of being in service to someone by listening.”

Catherine Dix, Byron Bay

“I connected every day with my match, Walaa. She was very open and engaged, and it was clear she yearned for a friend and a connection to a different way of life. She also had boys who were a similar age to my stepkids and she shared our messages and photos with them. We had a very strong bond.

“This was the second time I participated in Connecting Worlds and this year I was more prepared for the responsibility of it. It was tough but important for me to hear about the hardship, loneliness and trauma experienced by Walaa in Syria. I felt that, through our messaging, I was able to give hope and comfort in a small way, and demonstrate that somebody cared.

“Interestingly, I really struggled to communicate with friends and family just how deeply connected Walaa and I were. On one level, connecting with a stranger just via messaging feels very odd, but we really did feel like we became sisters and were very sad to say goodbye at the end of the eight weeks.”

Barbara Jackson, Melbourne

“What I love about Connecting Worlds is the fact the connection is so equal. You’re not donor and beneficiary, but two women having a conversation. And the translations between English and Arabic were so quick that it really did feel like a dialogue.

“This was my second time participating, and the two experiences were very different. My first match was quite shy and also suffered from Familial Mediterranean Disease, which is a genetic condition that causes pain and inflammation. She was living in difficult circumstances and I’m used to jumping in and sorting things out, but here I couldn’t do anything other than listen. I found that hard.

“My second experience, though, was joyous. We connected over our love of nature – the conversation started when she posted a photo of a herb she was growing, and I asked her if it was for cooking or sale. I live near a nature reserve, so I sent pictures of wattle, kangaroos (she loved those) and anything else I saw and thought she’d like. We chatted for about a month, which was long enough to keep vitality and interest in our conversations. I think she really enjoyed having someone to talk to.”

Dema Chaikhouni, Sydney

“I’ve participated in the Connecting Worlds app twice now, and my second connection was much more engaged, asking questions about my life and opening up about hers. She was experiencing some family issues; her daughter had married, and she was struggling with the separation from her, and she also had a newborn. She talked to me about wanting to start a business and I felt happy to be able to offer encouragement and support.

“My parents left Syria in the 1970s and the fact we were able to share cultural references and language added an extra layer to the experience. We both felt sad when the app came to an end. Connecting Worlds is an amazing platform that breaks down barriers – it draws you outside the bubble of your own experience and connects you with someone whose life is very different, yet who shares the common hopes and dreams that most of us hold.”

The Leading Women Fund is a dynamic community of Australian women supporting their Syrian refugee sisters. Your gifts to the Leading Women Fund can provide cash assistance for refugee women who have fled to Jordan.

Join the Leading Women Fund

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