Northeast Syria’s Women Leaders Find Opportunity in Adversity

Despite displacement and hardship, Sabah and Yusra are overcoming challenges to improve life for their communities and set an example for women and girls in the camps.

Among residents of displacement camps in Northeast Syria, women’s leadership is essential to connecting families with support and expanding awareness about opportunities for women and girls.

Yusra and her family of seven arrived as refugees in Syria after violent conflict forced them to flee their home in Northern Iraq. They suffered from poor living conditions, and Yusra’s husband, the only breadwinner for the family, was disabled with an amputated leg. In addition, Yusra’s oldest son was experiencing severe behavioral issues stemming from untreated ADHD.

A friend encouraged Yusra to attend an event and speak with Blumont’s team about the challenges her family was facing. The team connected her to specialized treatment for her son and helped Yusra get the support she needed to process her stress and the trauma of displacement.

With newfound confidence, Yusra began working with Blumont as a volunteer, where she helped facilitate activities and served as a liaison with the local community. She encouraged women to attend awareness sessions and offered support options for those at risk for or experiencing sexual and gender-based violence. Through this work, Yusra gained valuable skills and found her place in the community.

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Yusra teaches her daughters how to make bracelets

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Yusra served her community as a protection volunteer with Blumont’s community mobilization team

“I was afraid to be out in society and to speak in public, and had spent most of my time inside my tent,” Yusra reflected.” My work helped me to improve my communication skills, to feel loved, and to grow closer to my family.”

Encouraged and energized, Yusra and her husband decided to open a poultry shop in the camp, with Yusra serving as an equal business partner, which is not the norm in many Syrian communities. Both Yusra and the shop have been well received, and her example as a community protection volunteer and a business owner has encouraged other women to seek out new opportunities.

Sabah arrived in the camp with very traditional ideas about women’s roles in the community, which did not include working outside the home. However, Blumont’s team saw that Sabah, her husband, and their children were respected as positive influences in their community, and encouraged Sabah to consider taking on a volunteer role. Out of a sense of responsibility and humanitarianism, and with the full support of her family, Sabah decided to participate in camp leadership and activities.

She took on the role of community block leader and then sector leader in her area of the camp. As a leader, she worked closely with her neighbors to ensure that they were receiving all available services and played an important role in collecting concerns and ideas to be shared with camp management. Sabah also became a member of the service and education committees, where her input helped to strengthen activity and program offerings at the camp. Inspired by their mother’s work, her children got involved too and helped create and perform educational plays for other youth in the camp.

When schools were temporarily closed due to COVID-19, Sabah stepped in to help children on her block. She provided reading and writing lessons for 27 children, including her own.

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Sabah teaches neighborhood children in her home to prevent gaps in their education during COVID-19 school closures

“Sabah encourages us to go to school, and was like a mother helping us to follow our lessons,” one of her neighborhood students said. “She and her children set good examples for us through their ideas and the support they provide.”

As they serve their communities, Sabah, Yusra, and other women working and volunteering in the camps have created a pathway and a source of hope for other women and girls. Their stories are inspiring others to take on new challenges, look for opportunities, and use their unique gifts to lift up their families and communities.

“Great hope makes a great person – one who looks at the world through the eyes of optimism will see beauty everywhere,” Sabah said. “A hopeful person sees opportunity in every difficult situation they pass.”



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