A Day in the Life of Farah
When women and girls are forced to flee, they face specific risks and challenges. But they also show incredible strength and resilience. With the support of generous donors, UNHCR helps support and empower displaced women, girls and their families around the world.
“Before I started here I couldn’t read bus timetables. Now I can read a timetable or a newspaper. It’s a very good feeling! – Aisha, here with UNHCR staff member Farah, learnt to read at age 73 in a UNHCR-‐funded community centre serving Syrian refugees in Jordan. © UNHCR/David Azia
Farah Namrouqa is a Community Services Associate with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, based in Jordan. Each community services team plays a critical role identifying vulnerable refugees and developing programmes that provide protection and support refugees to learn new skills. Farah shares a typical morning supporting urban-‐based refugees in Jordan.
It’s a grey winter day in Amman and we’re in thick traffic travelling towards the city of Madaba in southern Jordan. My name is Farah and I’m one of the nine-member community services team working from UNHCR’s Amman office.
UNHCR’s community services teams support refugees by assisting vulnerable cases, providing referrals to appropriate teams and services, and developing programmes that help protect people and families. As well as working with refugees every day, one of the cornerstones of our programme are the community support committees, which help refugees integrate the local community and further develop their
education and job skills. That’s where I’m heading today, a UNHCR-funded community centre in Madaba.
We’ve arrived at the community centre. This is a very special place – it benefits both refugees and local Jordanians and I’m very proud of the success of our students and participants. Every year, hundreds of people attend various programmes to gain skills but also to socialize and interact with other people. Today I’m here to meet with the community services manager and monitor the progress of women in one of our adult literacy programmes.
Many of the Syrian women who have come to Jordan as refugees haven’t had the same opportunities as Jordanian women, especially the older women. Most never got to attend school, they may have married early, and here in Jordan they have found themselves without the skills they need to get by or succeed. So, when a number of women proactively requested literacy support, UNHCR decided it was time to act.
These classes have been running for a year now.
The morning’s literacy classes are starting and we head downstairs to the classroom. 21 women are here today, mostly Syrian but also a few Jordanian women. The classes are divided by age. This class is for women aged 50 plus. The centre is on the outskirts of the city and refugees come from far and wide to attend. We found that the cost of reaching the centre was preventing some women from coming so
now we have a shuttle bus to help ease the financial burden. Even so, many women still take two or three buses to attend – they are that dedicated to their learning!
As the teacher starts her class, I watch and monitor participation. After half an hour, I leave to meet with Maisoon, the community centre manager. She has run this centre for ten years. We discuss any potential issues and she’ll let me know about any at-risk refugees who might need extra support from UNHCR. We meet every week to make sure the programmes are all performing and that participation rates remain constant.
Funding is a constant issue for UNHCR – there is never enough money to go around – so we always make sure all our programmes are achieving their continually consult with refugees so our programmes truly meet
As the women’s literacy class ends, I spot Aisha as she gets ready to leave. Aisha is 73 years old and she’s an inspiration to all of us! Aisha never got to go to school but with a husband and children who could read and write, it had never been a problem. So when she found herself a widow and a refugee living alone in Jordan without her children to help, she knew she had to learn to read and write to survive.
We sit down for a progress update and she tells me: “Before I started here I couldn’t read bus timetables, I had to learn. Now I can read confidently, I can read a timetable or a newspaper. I can pick up a piece of paper from the street and read it. It is a very good feeling! When I texted my son for the first time he was so surprised. He replied “Mum! When did you learn to write? How did you learn that?” I’d kept it a surprise and they were pleased for me.”
UNHCR programmes like this impact people’s lives in such tangible ways. Reading and writing have opened up Aisha’s world – these skills have given her the ability to cope with her new life and helped rebuild her confidence. She now hopes to join a math programme and learn computer skills. Because Aisha joined the community centre, UNHCR was referred her case and we recommended her for an assessment for other support. Now she receives UNHCR monthly assistance to help cover the cost of her rent and medication.
I jump back in the car and we start the long drive back to Amman. This afternoon I have a team meeting and catch up with my manager. I also need to check properly through my emails and respond to outstanding queries. While I’ve been working with UNHCR for just one year, I’ve been helping refugees for around three years. When the Syrians came to Jordan, they were initially settled in the camps but most weren’t happy and moved into urban areas.
Syrians all seem to want to support themselves and not rely on charity and that’s why these community programmes are so very important – we are pleased that people seek out our centres and want to join because we can help them to become self-reliant. These centres also provide a chance for refugees to integrate in the host community they live in.
I really like my job helping refugees – I like providing services. It can be challenging though and sometimes it is overwhelming to hear so many sad stories every day, especially hearing about people who risk the sea journey to reach Europe.
UNHCR simply can’t help all the refugees in Jordan but we always try to find solutions to their problems and refer them to different organisations who might be able to help. The people I support tell me that even listening to them and their stories really helps and we try to respond with practical advice. It’s this knowledge and meeting inspiring refugees like Aisha that reminds me that we at UNHCR support and improve lives every day, that keep me motivated to continue to help.
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