Living with uncertainty: Lesson four

The fourth instalment of our Living With Uncertainty series focuses on building resilience, and what does it mean in practice. When Maya, a young Syrian refugee found herself alone and isolated in a strange country, she took practical steps to reset her goals and build a new life for herself.

It may feel like our lives are on hold right now. But with resilience, we can start building for the future.

When refugees are displaced by conflict or disaster, the life they once knew suddenly comes to an end. Their jobs, their homes, their dreams and plans – all gone. One of UNHCR’s key roles is to help them rebuild their resilience so they can start over.

I believe that some of what we have learned from that work can be helpful for us all in this current crisis.

1. Stay connected

For Maya Ghazal, arriving in the UK from Syria, the challenge of starting over was in many ways even greater than the challenge of surviving the conflict. With no English and no contacts, she felt rejected and alone.

‘I didn’t know anyone in the UK. I couldn’t talk to my friends in Syria. They were in the middle of a war zone and here I was in the best, safest country in the world and I was worried about not being accepted. This is not something I could share. I ended up not speaking to anyone about it.’

When we know that times are difficult for everyone else, we may struggle with feelings of guilt or shame. As if our struggles don’t matter because we are not suffering as much as them. But our struggles are real. We all matter. So it’s important to stay connected with people and share those struggles.

2. Learn new skills

Maya’s isolation was compounded by her lack of English. But rather than retreat into herself, she took control.

‘I decided, if people aren’t going to help me assimilate, then I am going to do it by myself. I started buying English storybooks and I would just read pages every day and underline the words and definitions.’

It’s quite a task to teach yourself a new language from scratch. But Maya used her creativity to make it happen.

‘I would turn on the TV with English subtitles and go on and on repeating the words out loud. I don’t have the best voice, but I would sing the words. I watched YouTube videos. I had to learn somehow. I even learned 40 famous English slang terms like, “I’m going to spend a penny”. I mean what does that even mean?’

We can all use this time to learn new skills so that we are better equipped to rebuild and re-establish our lives when we come out the other side of this crisis.

From honing your IT skills to fine-tuning your DIY or learning a musical instrument. What could you be practising now that will help build your own future resilience?

3. Keep hope alive

The time and effort Maya put into learning English paid off in two key ways. Firstly, the process of taking charge of her life gave her the strength to carry on.

‘I got to be a hopeful person. I learned the importance of being able to fix yourself, by yourself.’

Secondly, as she emerged from the crisis, Maya was able to reap the rewards of her effort.

‘After a few months, I went to a youth club meeting and said a few words in front of people. Someone from a charity approached me and said my English was very good and that she liked what I said. It lifted me up. It was a turning point for me. It felt like my hard work had paid off.’

Having lost one way of life, Maya was starting to create a new one.

‘The charity wanted me to be part of them. I felt like I belonged. That was my turning point.’

Many of us may feel life as we knew it has come to an end. But if we stay resilient, we can prepare ourselves for starting over. Just as Maya did.

Yours in solidarity,

Alessandra Morelli
UNHCR Representative, Niger

You can find out about our work protecting refugees during the coronavirus crisis by clicking the button below. 

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