Living with uncertainty: Lesson one

We bring you the first of a series of inspiring stories from the field, showing how refugees work together to care for one another, comfort their children and remain resilient and hopeful in times of great upheaval and uncertainty.

Here, Alessandra Morelli (UNHCR Representative, Niger), introduces Maya Ghazal, who at 12 years old experienced displacement and isolation in her hometown of Damascus. Now aged 20, Maya will be joining Allessandra over the next few weeks to share some thoughts from the frontline of refugee life on how to best deal with living with uncertainty.

I have seen how uncertainty generates anxiety and fear. I have also seen how that uncertainty can be managed.

My name is Alessandra Morelli. Through nearly three decades of working with UNHCR, I have experienced at first hand some of the most devastating crises of our age. From war in the Balkans to genocide in Rwanda to tsunami in Indonesia, I have stood alongside thousands of people whose lives have been uprooted in an instant. People who once felt certain and secure in their lives. Until they discovered in the most catastrophic way that nothing in life is certain.

And now, there is this. The coronavirus crisis. A crisis that is affecting us all. A crisis in which the old certainties are being shaken and we find ourselves in a permanent state of the unknown.

So I have been asking myself, what have I learned from the refugee experience? Is there anything here that might offer some hope, comfort and practical support to people around the world – people like yourself, as you face this new uncertainty?

And I have found the answer is most certainly, ‘Yes.’ Because I have learnt so much from refugees. From their resilience. Their solidarity and kindness. From the ways in which, time after time, they have come together to rebuild their communities even after enduring the most unimaginable suffering.

So over the next few weeks I am going to write a few stories – perhaps four or five – to share some of the things I’ve learnt. I hope to share insights and practical ideas about a range of topics including:

  • Helping children deal with the anxiety of change
  • Stratagies for coping with isolation
  • How to turn lock-down time to your advantage 
  • How we might come out of the other side of this stronger

In writing this short series I’m going to be joined by someone who really knows what it means to live with uncertainty. An inspirational young woman whose life was completely uprooted when she was still a young girl. A woman who has not only survived the ordeal, but has actually found ways to turn adversity into opportunity.

Her name in Maya Ghazal. She was only 12 when the conflict came to her hometown of Damascus. Since then she has experienced fear, displacement and an intense form of isolation that – as so many of us are learning right now – can be devastating to cope with. And yet today, aged 20, she says this:

So I hope you will join Maya and me over the coming days as we share some thoughts, reflections and lessons from the frontline of refugee life. Because we are all living with uncertainty now. And the best support we have, is each other.

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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