Zahra’s Story: One unique life behind the refugee numbers
Annette Quinn, Head of Operations & Impact
Of the millions of displaced Syrian refugees, every family, every person has their distinctive story to tell. Through our mission and operations to provide education, we become acquainted with refugee families, many who have shared accounts of their migration from Syria to Lebanon. This is Zahra’s story.
Zahra’s story commences from her home in Alraqqa, Syria. Alraqqa is 160 kilometres from Aleppo and is the former capital of Isis’ self-declared “caliphate”.
It is an area well documented for mass killings, public beheadings and other atrocities, as well as extensive bombardments. It is known for the thousands of civilians who have lost their lives, for thousands who remain missing and their families who continue searching for them. In September 2019, the 16th mass grave was found in Alraqqa, two years after the City had been seized from Isis control.
After the death of her husband and two brothers, Zahra fled to Bekaa to where her parents-in-law had migrated earlier*. She arrived with her five children aged seven to 13 years, traumatised and scarred by their losses, unsettled from their evacuation and distraught as their migration meant the forfeiture of their life’s possessions.
Five years on and Zahra and her young family continue to live in one of the numerous white tent city settlements scattered across Lebanon. Her rented tent home is situated on what used to be farmland at the foot of the mountains that mark the boundary to Syria. So, Zahra is a mere 30 minutes from the Syrian border and tells Natasha Ab, our Country Manager in Lebanon that “while accents differ between the Lebanese and Syrians, just as they do from one region to the next, it is still Arabic, and this is what helped me settle into Lebanon and my local community”.
Natasha described Zahra to me as a dedicated mother, self-motivated, driven to do the best for her children and undeterred by her challenging circumstances. Zahra became acquainted with the Breteau Foundation, by offering and providing support to our Mobile Education Bus team. She has since been hired and is responsible for aiding the critical connection between her Lebanese co-workers, the Lebanese local community and Syrian families residing in the settlement. Her wages support her children and her parents-in-law who she says “try their best to manage this new life, but they are old and cannot work”.
As our Tent School enters its final phase of development, we have hired Zahra as one of our key team members. While we are confident of the value Zahra will bring to our operations by supporting local families, she is also well matched to our organisation: Zahra describes her ambition to reach, support and improve the lives of as many children, as possible.
Zahra is not only a survivor but can easily be called a heroine and certainly the protagonist in her family’s story. But like many other heroines living in the Tent settlements in Lebanon, Zahra will not gain an international reward for her bravery, or be applauded for her resourcefulness or ingenuity to survive and support her family. But, hopefully Zahra will live in peace in Lebanon, and be able to feed and clothe her family, until the time comes for her return to Alraqqa. Zahra says to colleagues, “All refugees dream of going back to Syria, to rebuild their houses and nothing will feel better than going home.”
*It is typical for refugees from the same communities in Syria to re-establish within the same settlement in Lebanon.