Janine Allis with Malak, a Syrian refugee living in Jordan.
© Australia for UNHCR
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Malak's story

Kate Dundas connects with a Syrian refugee woman in Jordan.

More than a decade after the outbreak of the war in Syria, refugee women are still unable to return home safely. Kate Dundas, Australia for UNHCR's Deputy Chair, visited refugee women who are struggling to survive in Jordan. In this blog post, she reflects on a special woman she met in Amman and explains how cash assistance provided by the Leading Women Fund helps refugees make ends meet.

Earlier this year, I visited Jordan with Australia for UNHCR for the first time. The purpose of my trip was to meet refugees and understand first-hand how the money we raise through the Leading Women Fund is helping women who have fled the war in Syria.

The highlight of the trip was visiting a woman named Malak, who lives with her 88-year-old mother in a small one-bedroom apartment in a typical flat-roofed block in Amman.

Our driver parked in the narrow side street and we climbed the steps up to Malak’s place. We entered a small room where both Malak and her mother sleep – the latter taking the single iron-frame bed. There was hardly any other furniture. Malak’s mum sat on the floor and we took seats on the cushions along the walls. I sat next to Malak, who knelt on the carpet with UNHCR Officer Rozhan Gawdan, who translated for us.

Malak’s story was grim. She was a school art teacher in Syria. To get to work, she had to walk along destroyed streets, past bombed houses and shops, and across a square inhabited by snipers. She was terrified and decided to flee Syria with her brother and her mother, who used a walking frame. They travelled on foot, and by any other way they could, to get to the Jordanian border.

Malak with Kate Dundas during Jordan mission trip
© Australia for UNHCR
Syrian refugee, Malak with Kate Dundas, Australia for UNHCR's Deputy Chair. UNHCR’s cash assistance has helped Malak to sustain a life. The money she receives pays for her rent and heart medicine for her mother.

Malak spoke softly in Arabic as she told us her story. She wanted us to know that UNHCR’s cash assistance, provided by members of the Leading Women Fund, has helped her sustain a life. The money she receives pays for her rent and heart medicine for her mother. She also earns a little bit of money through making intricate beaded works. Malak showed them to us and it was clear that she takes pride in her work. She told us that her dream is to establish a small business using her art and craft skills so that she can be independent and not rely on cash assistance.

We were curious to know if she has used the Connecting Worlds app. The app allows Leading Women Fund members to have one-on-one communication with a refugee woman through texts and photos. It has been developed and overseen by UNHCR. As a member of the Leading Women Fund, I had the opportunity to connect with a young Syrian woman in Jordan last year. We swapped photos of our children, and shared recipes and stories of everyday life. She had lost her husband to the war and was bringing up her little boy alone.

Malak talked enthusiastically about connecting with a woman named Nicola. Her voice quavered when she told us that the app came at a crucial time, when she was at a dangerously low point, and that Nicola helped her get through that. I leant over and touched her shoulder and she took my hand. We gave way to tears (which I think took us both by surprise), followed quickly by a smile and a self-conscious laugh at ourselves. 

Among the many stories of tragedy, strength, determination and dignity we heard in Jordan, Malak’s is one I won’t forget. It is a potent reminder of the power of women supporting women – even from halfway across the world.

Janine Allis with Malak, a Syrian refugee living in Jordan.
© Australia for UNHCR
Malak with Leading Women Fund ambassador Janine Allis during a visit to Jordan earlier this year.

The Leading Women Fund is a dynamic community of Australian women supporting their Syrian refugee sisters. Donations to the Leading Women Fund provide cash assistance to help women provide for their families.


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