Amina's story: ‘I still have hope’

Jordan, Syria, March 1, 2016

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  • “My brothers and sisters and I want to learn so we will be able to help rebuild Syria,” she says. “I believe that I will return one day. But if I return now and I haven’t finished my studies, I can do nothing.” Photo: Peter Biro for Mercy Corps

Amina was in danger of losing her voice.

As a teenager she was always one to speak out, especially when talking about her dream of becoming a doctor and finding a cure for AIDS. But as violence began to spread near her home in Damascus, that future seemed to be in doubt. War was pressing in.

Amina’s family decided to stay in Syria as long as they could. But when it became too dangerous for her to even walk to school, 16-year-old Amina had seen enough. She decided to raise her voice by joining a wave of local protests.

“I couldn’t stop talking about these things,” she says. “In the beginning I was so happy to protest, but then I saw too much death and heard too many stories from friends about fathers being detained.

“I felt my heart breaking.”

Soon, life in Damascus became too dangerous, and Amina’s family fled to Jordan, where they have lived for the last three years.

Amina enrolled in a local school to finish her last year of high school. But she was a stranger there, with no friends and an accent that stood out. The Syrian and Jordanian students were often forced to crowd together into small classrooms, fueling cultural tensions that boiled over into bullying.

Amina was undeterred. She encouraged the Syrian girls around her to stay focused on their work, and with her parents’ encouragement, she soon finished high school. But now she can go no further: With her father unable to find work, her family cannot afford to send her to a university.

Her dream of finding a cure has been replaced by a life in limbo.

“What can I do?” she says. “Grab a weapon and fight? With whom? It’s useless. If I returned to Syria now I would be powerless and worthless. I can’t do a thing.”

Amina is not content to wait around. She began to teach herself German and English, and soon she was investing her time at a Mercy Corps youth center near her home in Jerash. The center allows Syrian and Jordanian girls to come together and build relationships in a safe space. For the first time in three years, she remembered what it felt like to have a community.

“I felt alive after being devastated upon leaving Syria,” she says.

It also meant a chance to find her voice again. One afternoon while studying with neighbors, Amina helped a friend understand a math problem that had been eluding her. As Amina explained it, she watched the concept click in her neighbor’s eyes. For a moment, the isolation they felt as refugees was overcome by a connection to something deeper.

Amina decided then that she would spend her time tutoring her fellow refugees.

“My brothers and sisters and I want to learn so we will be able to help rebuild Syria,” she says. “I believe that I will return one day. But if I return now and I haven’t finished my studies, I can do nothing.”

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