Call Her By Her Name
AMMAN, JORDAN — The Nuzha Women’s Center is nestled within the winding streets of the urban neighborhood of Eastern Amman. Built of rough-hewn stone, it is a haven for the hundreds of Syrian refugee women who gather daily for support sessions led by War Child staff and volunteers. As the women share and work through their experiences, their children are looked after at a safe space where they can study, play and begin to recover.
I recently travelled to Jordan to see the program for myself. That’s when I met Roy. I will never forget her story.
Five years ago, Roy escaped her home in Daraa, Syria with her two small children. She had a shattered jaw, perforated eardrum and broken leg sustained by an airstrike that fell directly on her house. Once she led a comfortable life with her husband and family; now she is one of 5.6 million Syrian refugees.
Under Jordanian law, Roy is unable to work but she spends her time volunteering at the Women’s Center, where she is putting her background in psychology to good use helping other women overcome their experiences.
Dressed in a long black dress and grey hijab, Roy is quiet and unassuming. Clutching her papers, she proudly points at the sheet. “This is my son, Mohammed, he’s 10. This is my daughter, Rima; she’s 11. People say she looks like me.”
In a soft voice, Roy tells me how her husband – who was protesting peacefully – was shot during a demonstration in her hometown. She and her son witnessed his murder. Later that very day, her father died of a heart attack induced by fear. It was during Ramadan a year later, that her house was bombed. Injured, hungry and thirsty, she and her children escaped by foot to Jordan through the night.
There is little left for Roy in Syria. Her hometown was completely destroyed; the life once lived there entirely erased. She was unable to retrieve her husband’s body for burial and she saw her brother-in-law taken away by soldiers of the regime, never to be seen again. Six years later, her son still suffers from night terrors. “He still does not forget. He never forgets” she says, as she wipes away a tear.
When I ask Roy what she would do if a return to her life in Syria was possible, she smiles for a moment. “I would take you to the places where bad things happened and show you how we rebuilt it and made better memories. But unfortunately, you can’t bring back those we lost”.
For now, Roy is safe. She tells me her work at the center allows her to work through her pain. Being part of a team and connecting with other women who have endured similar trauma is lifesaving. Her work has also given her a sense of purpose.
“As a refugee that cannot work I was afraid that I would lose my sense of self. But by working with War Child and belonging to this family, I know that I have value that can transform people’s lives,” she tells me.
Together with our local staff, volunteers like Roy are helping other women do what women have always done: support one another. Lift each other up. Protect their children from harm.
For many of us, Syrian refugees are faceless, nameless and even criminalized. It’s easy to allow them to exist only as tragic statistics you see on social media, feel for and then move on. But behind every number there is a human being like Roy. We owe it to her to call her by her name, hear her story, and bear witness to the horror of war and its aftermath.