Far from home, refugees build community

Jordan, Syria, September 1, 2015

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When Fadia saw two families murdered in front of her eyes, she knew it was time to leave Syria. The brutal violence of war had finally come to their doorstep, and so Fadia and her children began the long and dangerous journey to safer land.

Before settling in their current neighborhood in Jordan, Fadia and her family encountered challenges at every turn. “We thought a new place would be better for us,” she says. “On the contrary, every time we moved to another place it became dangerous for us.”

As they made their way through Syria, stopping at the homes of friends in different cities — hoping perhaps they could stay in the country — it became clear to Fadia that the danger was only getting worse. “It was violent everywhere.”

She crossed into Jordan alone with her children, leaving her husband behind to care for his elderly parents. After Fadia fled, he was nearly killed at their home when shrapnel came through the door and struck his face. Thankfully, he survived and was able to join Fadia in Jordan a year later.

But while her husband was back home in Syria, Fadia and her children were struggling to adjust to life in their new community. “The hard thing is that everything is different and I am myself responsible for the whole family, alone,” Fadia says. “Usually it's my husband who is responsible. I found myself separating the boys when they were fighting.”

In their new, cramped quarters — 26 extended family members living in one house — Fadia’s children were stressed and not getting along. In their school, and in the community, things weren’t any better. Tensions between the Syrian and Jordanian children were high and Fadia’s own children had few friends or opportunities to play.

The park in their neighborhood was empty and dusty. The children in the neighborhood had nowhere to go when they weren’t in school. When Fadia was chosen as a community leader in Mercy Corps’ leadership and community development program, she knew just where to start.

“In the community group, we visited the park and we remembered our parks in Syria,” Fadia says. “We began to think about what it was lacking and what we needed to do.”

Together with other community leaders, both Syrians and Jordanians, Fadia helped build a new playground in the park. And the effects have been transformative.

“The park lifted a huge burden off our shoulders,” she says. “The community started to accept us because we were able to contribute something.”

Now, Fadia and her children go to the park almost every day. It’s a way for them to find joy, and a way for them to connect with their new neighbors in Jordan. “When we go there, we see Jordanian families — we start talking to them and they talk to us,” she says. “I take my children to the park so that they can be in touch with their community, because we may be here for a long time.”

Fadia and her family are more comfortable in their community now, and she has bright ideas for the future, too. “Whenever we see a vacant or empty place, we plan to build a park, a kindergarten or a school project,” she says.

The leadership and conflict resolution classes have helped Fadia become an important part of her community, and the new skills she’s learned have also brought peace to her home. “We began to solve the conflict between my eldest son and my youngest one very easily,” she says. “These classes helped us a lot.”

Even in a place so far from home, Fadia can see a future for her family here. “Most importantly, I want my children to have education,” she says. “Secondly, I have a dream to have a house.”

And Fadia has found a purpose here — help others overcome the challenges she and her family once faced, and bring peace to the community. “Our job here is to diffuse the conflict and to reduce the problems between Syrians and Jordanians,” she says.

Fadia explains that at first, she and the rest of her training group were shy and afraid. But with some time, they gained the courage to work together. “We became community leaders,” she says. “We are happy.” Until she and her family can return home, Fadia will work to make their home in Jordan a better place.