Three Syrian refugee women reveal the item they picked up in the final moments before leaving home.
In Syria, Eman was a high-school Arabic teacher who specialised in teaching older students taking their final exams.
“The school was my second family,” she recalls. “I felt like a supplementary mother to the girls I taught.”
When the conflict began, however, Eman was forced to flee her home in Homs and cross into Jordan, where her brothers lived. Among the few things she brought with her were her school textbooks.
“I feel joy when I hold this book,” she says. “It reminds me of so much. I still hear the voices of my students calling me ‘Miss’ and asking questions. All the discussions we had about Arabic grammar and language. Even when I arrived in Jordan, I remained in contact with some of my students through Facebook. It was one of the saddest days when I heard the school had been destroyed.”
“I don’t think anything will beat the memories we created there.”
Eman’s husband died of natural causes before the conflict began, so she was already a single mother - her eldest child was only eight years old. Her parents also had health issues.
“My father was very sick – he was on crutches – so it was difficult for him to walk to the border. But when we left home, we had to walk a long way until we found a car that could take us.
“I felt like a mother hen, my children under one wing and my parents under the other."
The family camped at the border for 14 days before they were allowed into Jordan. Eman immediately sought health care for her parents and recalls worrying constantly about how she would look after them while ensuring her children continued their education. She credits the Jordanian government’s decision to allow refugee children to enrol in school for stabilising the family. That, and the monthly cash assistance of 110 Jordanian dinars ($AUD 230) she receives from UNHCR to help pay rent and bills. Eman says this has been essential in keeping her children – Suhair, 17, Mohammad, 16, and Zeina, 15 – in school.
After putting so much effort into their education, Eman is worried about what will happen once they graduate high school.
“My friends and neighbours tell me that my children should just start working, that it is pointless even trying to get them to go to university,” she says. “But education provided so much for me; I hope it will be a blessing for them as well.”
When Khloud fled her home in Daraa, south-west Syria, she was seven months pregnant – and accompanied by nine children.
“I was by myself with them,” she says. “It was the middle of winter when we were crossing into Jordan. I wrapped everyone up in the same blanket so we could keep warm.”
Khloud’s husband had been arrested during the initial protests and later died from his injuries. When the conflict started to escalate, Khloud feared for her family’s safety. Although Daraa isn’t far from the border, the journey wasn’t easy; at one point, she thought she’d lost one of her sons in the crowd of people, but eventually they all reached the safety of Za’atari refugee camp.
Life in the camp was very difficult for the family. Stress caused Khloud to give birth prematurely to her youngest child, Abdelsalam. She had to walk to the hospital while she was in labour.
Apart from one bag of clothes, Khloud brought barely any belongings as she thought their stay in Jordan would be temporary. The red blanket had been a gift from her husband after one of his work trips to Kuwait. Although bringing it was a last-minute decision, Khloud says it served them well during the severe winter.
“I think it’s around 20 years old now,” she says. “There are a couple of stains which I know are from that night at the border. I’ve tried everything, but I can’t get them out.”
Today, Khloud's situation has improved significantly. She now lives in Jordan’s capital, Amman, and three of her daughters are married and living with their own families nearby. With her younger children, she recently moved to a new home where the rent is supported by a private donor, who is helping women who have lost their husbands. As a result, Khloud has finally started to make friends.
“All the women in this building support each other,” she says. “We are one family. If there is a marriage or an occasion to celebrate then the whole building turns up. Even when someone is sick, they are not left alone.
“In the last nine years, so much has changed. I hope even more will change for the better in the next nine years.”
Like many Syrians who fled early on in the war, Huda thought she would only stay in Jordan for a short time. She wasn’t particularly worried about leaving her belongings; the one item she does remember carrying is her bottle of water.
“The water in Syria tastes different,” she says. “It doesn’t need to be filtered. Particularly because I suffer from kidney issues, having a regular flow of water is extremely important for me.
“It sounds trivial but often I still think of that bottle of water. I ended up leaving it at the border crossing, but Jordanian water is not the same.”
Huda and her four children, then aged eight to 15, left Daraa, Syria, in November 2012. Her husband had died two months earlier during the conflict and their house burned down. Despite all the difficulties they have since faced, Huda remains extremely thankful for the safety that Jordan has provided for her family.
After spending nearly three weeks in Za’atari refugee camp, Huda decided to leave to find a place to rent in Amman. “We stayed in a mosque for a couple of days and we only had blankets with us, and no money,” she says. “But some Jordanians would come every day with food and clothes for the children.”
Money remained tight, which meant her son found a job in a factory making olive oil. Huda’s elder daughter, Haneen, struggled to settle into school after missing so much of her education. Only Rama, the youngest, has continued in school.
Huda has also struggled with her health, undergoing multiple operations on her kidneys and gallbladder. But UNHCR’s monthly cash assistance of 110 Jordanian dinars ($AUD 230) helps the family to pay its rent and other essential bills.
“Without this, we would be on the street,” says Huda.
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The majority of funds raised by Australia for UNHCR are directed to UNHCR’s emergency operations, providing the ready funds and resources to respond quickly and effectively in situations of crisis and disaster.