In their own voices: Syrian women refugees speak

Leila did not want to be photographed, but allowed a CARE staff member in Azraq refugee camp, Jordan, to photograph her hands

My name is Laila, I am 37 years old. I come from Deir El Zor. I am alone and I have children to take care of. My husband works in Jordan as a shepherd.

Back home in Syria, one night an air raid started, and there was so much noise and confusion. Suddenly an armed group forcefully entered my house, they kicked me and the children out.

It was snowing, but I carried my children and ran out because I was scared that they would kill us. Human life has no value nowadays.

I moved to another village and stayed there for a month before I had to move again to a school that became a shelter for displaced people. After eight months, the school got so crowded with people and children.

We were targeted like sitting ducks, afraid of new attacks, and the safest option was to move again.

I went to the outskirts of the village and built a shelter in the hopes that we would be safe – but to no avail. There were even tunnels underneath us where armed groups hid and stored weapons.

It was as if we were followed by terror no matter where we went.

I called my husband in Jordan and told him that I can no longer tolerate this life. I was moving constantly with three very young children. I barely slept, fearing that something might happen to us.

I had a very good life before the dreaded war started. My husband worked for eight months in Jordan each year, the rest he stayed with us. I was living freely, I would go to the market whenever needed. But the war stopped us from being able to move around, as roads were blocked and we were trapped most of the time.

They took my home away from me by force, and later they destroyed it and reduced it to rubble. I no longer have a home.

When I left, I had only the clothes that I was wearing as it was impossible to azpack any belongings. Every time we were forced to move my heart broke; my children were wailing uncontrollably from sadness and fear, and I would comfort them and say that we were going to leave this place and go somewhere better, although I knew that it wasn’t true. What’s better than home? Nowhere is better. Syria is ruined.

My children started to get night terrors from the number of times they had to witness bombings and people dying. The noises of the airplanes and the air raids would send them into crying fits.

I moved with them so many times and from shelter to house to tents to mud houses; there was no type of shelter that we didn’t live in.

Eventually terror and war spread all over my beloved country and Jordan was the only place I could seek refuge in. Thank God there is safety in Jordan, and I thank the Jordanians and wish for them peace in their country.

I hope and dream that the situation will get better. If not, and if I have to stay in Jordan, I hope that I can get an education for my children. My eldest child is eight years old and hasn’t started first grade yet.

It would be such a shame for my children to be uneducated. I am illiterate, and I don’t want my children to be like me.

The terror that we went through destroyed everything but at least we can still dream, right?

A woman's hands
Ruqayya did not want to be photographed, but allowed a CARE staff member in Azraq refugee camp, Jordan, to photograph her hands

My name is Ruqayya, I am 38 years old, and I come from Al Ghouta in rural Damascus.

I left Syria to get treatment and education for my children.

My daughter has severe anaemia and needs frequent blood transfusions. She usually requires a transfusion every three months and sometimes during extreme heat or cold her red blood cell count drops very low.

During the last period of my life in Syria it became impossible for me to keep my daughter monitored and healthy.

Since the war started, my children’s situation deteriorated in many areas. We used to be a close family, my children would be surrounded by their father and their eldest siblings. I start to feel that my power on them as a mother has weakened, and they began to undermine my authority. In Syria, I said something once and never had to repeat it again. Bedtime meant bedtime! Now, they don’t know discipline.

An entire generation is ruined because of this war.

We might understand the implications of this war on our children, but they will never understand what they are missing, and what their lives might have been. The teenagers have it even worse, because they become rebellious and start to enlist themselves with whatever armed group and die fighting.

I would probably need a day or two to tell you about all the hardship that I went through. I suffered so much, it was like living in hell.

Sometimes we had no food at all, and the only available thing was salt. So I would dissolve salt in water and make my children drink it just to fill their stomachs with something. They would smell the neighbours cooking rice or lentils and they would say: “Oh, how lucky our neighbours are.”

We ate tree leaves, we ate animal feed! Anything would do.

My children’s bodies became so frail. I was so helpless and weak, I couldn’t provide for my family. I would look at them and ask: “Are you hungry?” They wouldn’t say ‘yes’ so my feelings wouldn’t get hurt, but instead ask me back: “Are you?”

Before the war, I was living for 14 years with my husband and children in one room. The year before the war started, we made some money and were able to build an extension to our house. I felt like a queen in this simple life. My husband would cut lumber and sell it, and we were at least living safely with our bellies full. My whole life I wanted an automatic washing machine, and finally I was able to buy one.

Sadly this good life only lasted for seven months. Then our house was destroyed. Gone was the washing machine. We had to move.

I loved my home so much, I was almost the last one to flee the village because I didn’t want to leave all the hard work that went into my home.

I look back and I thank God we are in Jordan now. I am grateful though that my whole family is alive. All I want is peace to return to Syria. I want to take my children and go back and live in a tent. I’ll wait another 14 years to have a two-room house and an automatic washing machine.

These stories were documented by CARE in Jordan’s Azraq refugee camp, where CARE runs community centres providing refugees with access to services and information, including psychosocial support, day care, recreational activities, sports, non-formal educational and vocational training, and internet access.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.