– the story of adversity faced by Rahaf, a young Syrian building a new life in the Netherlands.
Syria’s ongoing conflict has left the country and its people scattered and shattered, with over 11 million refugees all over Europe and the Middle East. No longer able to dream of going back, they all have to face the reality that most of them are to stay. In the effort to build a new life for themselves, they face different social and psychological challenges. How do refugees fully integrate into a new society and still stay connected to their Syrian identity? How will you not be seen a ‘refugee’ but as a strong and capable worker? Active Voices gathers young Syrians to work together, build a new life and have a voice. One of these young Syrians is Rahaf, and she has a story to tell.
Rahaf is from Aleppo and is 33 years old. She’s been living in the Netherlands for the past two and a half years. She left Syria in a rush, and had to leave within one week. Like many other refugees, she used the services of illegal smugglers, and traveled by sea. “No doubt, the trip was difficult”, she says. “But I comforted myself with humor. I considered the trip as an adventure. As a tourist trip.”
Seeing positivity in the face of hardship is something Rahaf tries to do with everything she encounters. But sometimes, running into a wall this often just gives you scars. When she finally arrived in the Netherlands, it did not become easier at all, she says.
“It is difficult to come to a strange country that you have no clue about. Everything is strange, customs and traditions, the language, people, the way they deal with you. You have to find a new way to deal with everything, and that’s hard.”
The challenges faced as a refugee are contextual. Those settling in the Middle East will face different adversities than those settling in Europe. “But you always start from zero”, Rahaf says. “Even those who live just outside Syria. They may speak the same language, but they face other big challenges, like the search for basic necessities. For them, it may seem that the Syrians in Europe are living in comfort and happiness, but we face other problems. Our basis needs may be met, but we still suffer. We suffer great psychological pressure. But us Syrians are strong. We do not surrender. We have a lot of pride.”
Pride offers Rahaf a way to keep the strength to go on, but she sometimes also needs to let go of her pride in order to build a new life. For example while finding a job. “I was working as a program coordinator in Syria for a community project called ‘Bridges of Peace’. When I went to apply for jobs or voluntarily positions here, my experience was underestimated every time. For two full years, I was without a job”, she says. “Then, after two years, I could finally work, even if it was voluntarily. They accepted me as a secretary, because they needed an Arabic and English speaker. I had to let go of all my experience, but I chose to seize it as an opportunity to learn.”
In the process of adapting to a new life, many young Syrians also combat feelings of loneliness as they’ve settled into a new country by themselves, or with family members missing. For a year and a half, Rahaf lived by herself, waiting for her husband to join her. Before he arrived, life was even more difficult for her, she says.
“Without anyone encouraging and supporting me, it felt like there was something lacking. When he arrived, he built me a family again, a support system, and he made me feel safe. He gave me the feeling of safety that you get from guidance and support.”
Being strong, having a voice and keeping your pride, is much more difficult without a support system. How do you keep strong under so much pressure, while the feeling of loneliness is taking over? Strength, pride and the ability to speak out is something you can find within yourself, but it gets stronger when encouraged by others. “That’s why the existence of projects like Active Voices is so important. These projects help Syrians from everywhere to find a support network and raise their voice up. They don’t have to be merely refugees, sometimes stripped of every value, and they can be more than just numbers”, she says.
Active Voices gathers people so they can keep hold of their pride. They can find support even if their regular support system is far away. They can come together and have a voice. For Rahaf, this is a system that is essential, both for adapting to a new life, and the ultimate return to home. “We have to derive strength from each other, and push each other to take the first step to integrate into a new society”, she goes on. “But at the same time, we focus on supporting and developing ourselves and each other, so that one of these days, when we go back to our homeland, we would be carrying something between our hands to offer to our country.”