These refugees are helping families rebuild their lives.
At the heart of Nuzha, the first community centre to cater for refugees in Jordan, a group of refugees are providing support and advice to the most vulnerable families. After fleeing conflict and violence themselves, these volunteer community workers are now supporting fellow refugees to rebuild and start fresh in Jordan.
These are their stories.
“When I first stepped on Jordanian soil, I knew it was going to be a different life. My husband was injured during the conflict and I took on the burden of providing an income for my family. Most of the people who come [to the centre] are my friends and neighbours. People even approach me when I'm out buying vegetables to ask for advice. I have seen a real change in people’s lives because of what we do here.” – Hiyam, Nuzha Community Centre volunteer worker.
Hiyam and her family fled rural Homs, Syria, for Damascus and then the southwestern city of Daraa. They eventually crossed the border into Jordan in 2012. With five children, the responsibility of life as a mother and refugee for Hiyam was daunting and exhausting – making sure there was enough money to survive, that the children went to school and that there was food in the fridge.
Two years ago, life took a turn for Hiyam when she was accepted into the support committee at Nuzha community centre. Since opening in 2018, the UNHCR-supported centre has become a vital part of community life, providing protection, registration and education support for refugees living in Jordan’s capital, Amman. Hiyam helps refugees with everything from preventing early marriage to facilitating life skills classes. She says she finally feels that she has a purpose in life other than looking after her children.
“[When the conflict started in Syria] I just got in the car and left. I wanted to come to Jordan but because of the fighting in Daraa, the road from Damascus to the border was closed, so I had to go to Lebanon. As soon as I stepped on Jordanian soil, it felt like home. The people here are my family. I don’t feel like it is work. I come here every day with a smile on my face.” — Ammar, Nuzha Community Centre volunteer worker.
Ammar was only 18 when he first arrived in Jordan eight years ago and still remembers in vivid detail his journey from Syria. He came to Jordan where he registered with UNHCR and now holds a Minister of Interior card for Syrian refugees which grants him legal protection, freedom of movement and allows him to access services provided by humanitarian agencies and the Government of Jordan. Ammar tried to find informal work in markets and shops but he struggled. With no qualifications after the conflict cut off his hopes of going to university, he had to find his own way to build a better future. Everything changed when he started volunteering at Nuzha community centre. He is one of the 17 refugees and Jordanian volunteers who set the direction, suggest activities and act as community liaisons for the most vulnerable families.
“I joined Nuzha because I wanted to ease tensions between Sudanese refugees and the Jordanian host community. Sometimes, they look at the colour of our skin and treat us differently. I’ll always be grateful for the kindness people have shown me here, but I want to make sure that that is always the case for my children.” – Hajj, 34, Nuzha Community Centre volunteer worker.
Hajj, a Sudanese refugee, has spent 10 years in a camp for internally displaced persons in Sudan and six years as a refugee in Jordan. For nearly half his life, he has lived away from the village where he grew up in Darfur. When Hajj was 14 years old, two of his uncles and eight neighbours were killed by a rival tribe. His family fled to Al Faisha camp where they sought shelter in plastic tents with very little infrastructure. Then, six years ago, he was targeted because of his tribe and forced to leave Sudan. He and his wife fled to Jordan. His mother, father, brothers and sisters still live in the camp. Now, with a three-year-old son and six-month-old daughter, Hajj feels an added pressure to ensure his children never have to see what he did.
“We didn’t know what war meant until we started living through it. Our house was near a military base and when the fighting got worse all we could hear were the bombs flying over the house. We were scared. For the first year, I didn’t really go out of the house, I had to drop out of university. We didn’t want to be killed far from our homes. At least if a bomb hit our house, we would be surrounded by our family … I don’t want to return if there is no safety. I know Yemenis who went back to dangerous areas because they couldn’t find work and faced hardships in Jordan. They want to save their dignity, rather than beg on the streets here, so they have gone back.” – Muna, 27, Nuzha Community Centre volunteer worker.
Muna is a Yemeni refugee living in Jordan. With a Somali mother and Yemeni father, she has always felt split between two cultures. But in her current role as a volunteer at Nuzha Community Centre in east Amman, her identity allows her to help both Yemeni and Somali refugee communities. Muna accompanies fellow refugees when they have interviews with authorities, helps translate for Somali refugees, and facilitates computer classes for women. Working at Nuzha has changed Muna’s outlook on life. Engaged to one of the other volunteers, she has found a sense of safety and calls it her second home.
“I was finally in a place where I had found a sense of stability in my life. I wanted to be able to help other refugees to do the same. It’s the best part of my day when a child smiles because of something I have done or a person with a disability says thank you because you are one of the few people who care. I believe that what we have developed here should be replicated in as many places as possible.” – Nasser, 30, Nuzha Community Centre volunteer worker.
Nasser, now 30 years old, was just 22 when he left Syria. He was working at the Four Seasons hotel while studying travel and tourism in college but then the conflict began and he was forced to leave his life in Syria behind. He fled to Jordan with his mother and older brother as militias approached the family trying to recruit them. Nasser tried to find informal work but he was afraid of being caught by the authorities. He and his family became reliant on food vouchers and handouts from local organisations. In 2015, he finally applied for a work permit and found a job in a supermarket as a pastry chef. But something was still missing. When he saw an announcement looking for community volunteers, Nasser says he felt a calling to help others.
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