In the past year, most of us have experienced the sadness of isolation. Being unable to sit with our elderly relatives or cuddle newborn members of our family has tested all of our emotional strength and resilience.

For the Syrian refugee women supported by the Leading Women Fund, this loneliness is part of daily life. Living in Jordan, disconnected from family networks and often caring for children, these female heads of households crave emotional connection and support.

For one month last year, many of these refugee women found solace in talking to Australian women through UNHCR’s ground-breaking Connecting Worlds app.

“Giving through the Fund, with the personal connection I formed through the app, brought me to a place of empathy that’s quite different to traditional giving."

“One thing that strikes me so much is that, overwhelmingly, it’s the emotional support that is so beneficial for the refugee women who take part,” says Lara Schlotterbeck, UNHCR’s project lead for the Connecting Worlds app. “Particularly for single mothers, who are caring for children and running the household. No one asks them at the end of the day how they are, or how they’re feeling. So having someone check in with them means a huge amount, more than we could imagine.”

Since the trial of the Connecting Worlds app last year by our Leading Women Fund members, Lara and her colleagues in Geneva have been collating data and feedback to analyse the experience for both Australian and Syrian participants. Now, they’re ready to offer the app experience to a new, limited cohort of donors this October.

In a recent Leading Women Fund webinar, Lara explained how Connecting Worlds enabled an unmediated relationship between donor and refugee.

“Normally, a donor would receive information from UNHCR, written by us, which would talk about the life of a refugee or tell their story in written form,” she said. “Instead, the app allows an unfiltered connection. Refugees and donors can write to each other through the app, exchanging messages and images, and share their lives with each other.”

UNHCR's Connecting Worlds app

Leading Womens Fund is an initiative of the UNHCR

Syrian refugee Reem bonds with her match Sarah through the Connecting Worlds app. © UNHCR/Hannah Maule-ffinch

Many of last year’s cohort of donors described their month on the Connecting Worlds app as a life-changing experience. Some found common ground in the universal trials and tribulations of raising children, or hobbies like cooking or gardening. Others shared an interest in books and philosophy. Most donors gained an insight into the struggles faced by the women they were matched with.

“I was lucky to connect with a Syrian woman who really opened up to me,” says retired nurse and LWF donor Joy Donovan. “She had a 10-year-old daughter and they lived in a flat that had mould on the walls. She slept on a thin mattress on a tiled floor. I texted her every day and I still think about her often. “Neither is the app experience beneficial only for the refugee women taking part. Says interior designer Penny Castillo: “I was working late during the app trial, trying to keep my business together, so we’d often exchange messages late at night. I felt we supported each other.

“Giving through the Fund, with the personal connection I formed through the app, brought me to a place of empathy that’s quite different to traditional giving. Neither of us wanted our friendship to end.”

To find out more about your chance to connect with a Syrian refugee woman, please contact Ashley, Leading Women Fund Co-ordinator.

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