“At Nuzha, it doesn’t matter what nationality you are, or even that you are a refugee. Here we support everyone.”
With a Somali mother and Yemeni father, Muna, 27, now a refugee in Jordan, explains how she has always felt split between two cultures. But in her current role as a community volunteer at Nuzha Community Centre in East Amman, she has finally found peace with her identity as it allows her to help both Yemeni and Somali refugee communities living in the city.
As one of the members of the Community Support Committee at Nuzha, Muna talks about how she has accompanied fellow refugees for moral support when they have interviews with authorities, helped translate for Somali refugees who have difficulties speaking Arabic and regularly facilitates computer classes for women. But on a personal level, it has been a long journey to get to this point.
Growing up in Yemen with her three brothers and two sisters, Muna describes how “everything was beautiful. I felt safe walking in the streets. Everyone in the neighborhood knew us, all my father’s relatives lived in the same area and I felt part of the community.”
But after waiting for three years after she completed high school and finally getting her family approval to study psychology at university, Muna was only able to complete her first year before the conflict started.
“We didn’t know what war meant until we started living through it. Our house wasn’t far from a military base and so when the fighting got worse, all we could hear were the bombs flying over the house. We were scared. For the first year, I didn’t really go out of the house, I had to drop out of university. Especially for the women, because we were living in a relatively conservative culture, we didn’t want to be killed far from our homes. At least if a bomb hit our house, we would be surrounded by our family, dressed nicely probably watching TV.
“But then we got used to the war. For me, this is the scariest thing about these sorts of conflicts, that people carry on as normal. I stayed for three years, living in this state but then at the start of our last Ramadan in Yemen, my nephew got hit and shrapnel injured his leg. We realized that we couldn’t live in fear. We decided that something had to change and used all our money to buy a plane ticket to fly to Jordan.”
Arriving to Amman in April 2017, with her two younger brothers, together they gradually saved enough money to pay for the plane ticket for their mum and two sisters to follow them to Jordan. Especially for her brothers, finding safety in Amman was essential as militias in Yemen had started to approach them as potential members.
Now despite challenges of working as non-Syrian refugees in Jordan, they try and work informally in restaurants whenever they can to earn a small income but mostly rely on the cash for work that Muna gets as a community volunteer.
Most of Muna’s income, however, gets sent back to her older brother and six children who are still stuck in Sanaa “Life in Yemen is so difficult at the moment. With the bombs, the militias and the exceptionally high cost of living. I feel so lucky to have found safety here. It sounds bad, but sometimes when my older brother rings me, I don’t answer his calls the first time as it is hard for me to hear about what they are having to live through.”
Living in Jordan and working in at Nuzha, has completely changed Muna’s outlook on life. Engaged to one of the other volunteers, she has found a sense of safety.
“I don’t want to return if there is no safety, I know Yemenis who went back to dangerous areas in Yemen because they can’t find work and have faced many hardships living in Jordan. They want to save their dignity, rather than beg on the streets here so have gone back.”
Back in Yemen, she explains not even her cousins knew what she looked like as due to the conservative culture, she was always fully covered when leaving her home. In Jordan, however, Muna says she has found a new sense of freedom, working alongside both male and female volunteers at Nuzha as well as being a focal point for both the Yemeni and Somali communities where she lives.
“Nuzha is my second home,” Muna says. “If I go back to Yemen, I want to set up a centre like this. To spread a message of understanding and respect no matter where you come from.”