"Girls should wear school uniforms, not wedding dresses"

Johanna Mitscherlich
Muzoon pictured at Azraq refugee camp in Jordan

When Muzoon, 16, reached Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, she thought that her life had come to an end. But what she found was the passion and challenge of her life: advocating for education and against early marriage. Here is Muzoon’s story about the experiences that inspired her to stand up and demand change.

The last thing I remember about Syria is my last day at school.

It was the hardest day of my life. I have always been very ambitious and one of the top students in my class. I had only four more weeks left to finish 9th grade when my father told my sister, my two brothers and me that we would have to flee to Jordan. He explained to us that it was not safe anymore, that people were getting killed and arrested.

I was yelling at him and screaming. I did not care about our safety and told my parents that I preferred to stay in the middle of the bombings rather than having to leave my country. But in the end I knew that if I made my family stay and anything happened, I could never ever forgive myself. The only thing I knew about Jordan I knew from TV. I had seen videos of Zaatari camp on the news, and I was horrified.

Fleeing from Syria

The next day, I was sitting on my wooden chair in my class room. I did not listen to what my teacher was saying. My ears were deaf and I could not speak. I could not tell my teachers or my friends that I would never come back to sit in my seat in the second row. My parents told me that people might stop us from leaving, if they knew about our plans.

When I left I was the 20th out of 40 students in my class who did not return to class. Some had fled, some had died.

The next day, we left Daraa and drove to the border. We waited until it got dark and then walked two hours until we crossed the border to Jordan and were brought to Zaatari camp by people my father had to pay.

Marriage at 15

On my first day at school in Zaatari camp, I sat next to a girl called Abir. Abir was beautiful, smart and a lot of fun to be around. She became a good friend.

But a few weeks later, Abir told me that she is planning to get married. She kept telling that she would be wearing a beautiful dress on her wedding day and that her husband would buy her all the clothes she would want to have. She dreamt of taking responsibility in her life, to feel equal to the grown-ups around her. She said that with the crisis in Syria her childhood had ended anyway.

I am still angry when I think about Abir, but I also feel very sad.

I spent days trying to persuade her to finish her school first. “Girls our age should be wearing a school uniform, not a wedding dress,” I told her. “Nothing can ever be better than studying. All these things you dream about might not come true. But when you work hard you can buy yourself the shoes you like and you can still get married when you have completed your studies.”

I never saw my friend again

But Abir, one of these few people who could effortlessly become anything they want in their lives, did not listen. Aged only 15 years, she got married a few weeks later. I never saw my friend again.

As disappointed as I was, I also felt like I found a purpose in my life.

Ever since I lost Abir as my friend, I want to fight against child marriage.

I want to learn as much as possible and excel in school and become a journalist. I want to write about child brides, and I want to write for them so they know that getting married is not a solution.

Early marriage is not a solution

I want to tell them that getting married at an early age will mean abandoning their dreams and close a lot of doors for their future. They will not have time to go to school, but will need to clean the house and prepare food for their husband. When they get pregnant, they are endangering their health.

In my past year in Jordan I have talked to many girls who are my age or younger, who were planning to get married. I was able to persuade some of them to wait, and I have seen many more not returning to class.

A lot of times their parents want them to get married, because they do not have enough money to feed all of their children. Some think that there is no point in sending their girls to school anymore, as their entire life has fallen apart anyways.

Education is the answer

I understand their reasoning, but I do not want to accept it. I know myself how horrible it is to flee and to leave your whole life behind. When we left Daraa, I could only take a small backpack with me. I had trouble deciding what I would put in there. My father put his arm around me and told me that it would not matter what I took with me.

"All what you need is in there," he said and pointed at my forehead. "Whatever happens in life, the only thing that no one can take away from you is what you have in your head."

A girl's right to decide

In each of the tens of thousands of tiny white houses in Azraq refugee camp, where I moved to from Zaatari camp a couple of months ago, people sleep and dream about what has happened to them in Syria, and what they wish for the future.

Society has told them what is right and what is wrong, and girls are told that marrying early is acceptable and will make their lives better.

But it should be them who decide what is right and wrong for their own lives.

There is no better investment

Girls are the foundation of our society. Girls will become mothers and they will tell their sons and daughters about the value of education. There is no better investment in the society, in the future of entire nations than investing in a girl’s education.

When I had to flee to Jordan I thought this will be the end of my life. But it really was the beginning of something new, the start of my life-long challenge to fight against child marriage and for education for my fellow, beloved Syrian girls.

Johanna Mitscherlich's picture

Johanna Mitscherlich is Media and Communications Officer for CARE Germany-Luxembourg.