When Ayat, a 35-year-old Syrian, obtained her master’s degree in Arabic literature in 2005 and started lecturing at the University in Homs, she had every intention of finishing her PhD. Then in March 2013, she was forced to flee.
Ayat planned to prove that a female villager can and should be educated. However, in March 2013, two years after the beginning of the conflict in Syria, Ayat was forced to flee her city and the studies she loved so much. Overnight, her life changed drastically, as she turned from a university lecturer preparing her PhD, to a Syrian refugee.
However, since arriving in Jordan, Ayat has volunteered with several agencies, including CARE, helping other refugees.
Mahmoud Shabeeb from CARE International, interviewed Ayat on her volunteering experience and her refusal to give in to the hardships of refugee life.
Why did you leave Syria and how?
My husband and I had been displaced to three different villages in Syria. We could not bear the situation any longer as it became very unsafe for us to stay in Homs. In the third move, we went to Turkey, then from there came to Jordan. The road to the Turkish border was very unsafe so we fled to the border riding motorcycles. We were told, ‘Say your prayers because they might be your last. This is very hazardous and deadly, but it is the only way possible.’ Thank God we made it.
How has your life changed between what it was before the war and now?
It has changed drastically. I had worked so hard to finish my studies and have a career. I used to be one of the first students in my faculty, and every year I would progress higher until I graduated the first among my colleagues. I represented my parents’ dreams and, being the eldest of my siblings, I was a role model to them.
In the beginning my father was not very keen on me or my sisters finishing our studies, given that we are from a village where teaching daughters is not a priority. But when he saw how I excelled in my first year at the university he changed his perspective entirely.
After that, all my sisters and brothers finished their university education. I wanted to finish my PhD degree and become a university professor, but the crisis prevented me from pursuing my dreams further.
What was the motivation behind your persistence and success?
I had dreams that I insisted on turning to reality. I had an intention to prove to everyone in my village that even if I was a female I can finish my studies and become a successful person who helps her family and contributes to the welfare of her community. And I did it.
How did you decide to start volunteering in aid agencies?
I always wanted to do voluntary work and have different activities from my career and personal life, but I was very busy with my studies and developing my career. And I could not find a lot of opportunities back home.
When I first arrived to Jordan I was in the city of Tafila in the south. There I volunteered in several aid organizations, Jordanian and international. Then we moved to Zarqa where I volunteered with CARE. Volunteering has been a completely new experience for me so I wanted to profit from this opportunity to invest in my voluntary side and help people in need.
What has the experience of voluntary work meant to you?
Before volunteering I used to think that my problems were the biggest in the world. But interacting with people firsthand and listening to their problems on a daily basis made me realize that there are many other people, particularly Syrian refugees like myself, who have been through more than I have been through and are more vulnerable than I am. I feel useful, I feel that I can help those people and that, against all odds, I have something to give.
Do you still have family in Syria? How do you contact them?
Yes, apart from my husband everyone I know is still in Syria. We communicate with our families through smartphone. When they have access to an internet connection they text me via WhatsApp. They send me images and updates about the situation. Most of the time they do not have access to internet, or the connection cuts during our conversations, so once they are connected they contact us to reassure us.
What do you think is the toughest part about being a refugee? And how do you try to counter that?
There are days when I compare my current life and difficult conditions to how my life was like back home. It also breaks my heart when I notice how much Syrians have changed away from home, because of how their lives have changed. I try to spread positive thinking among the people I know. I try to keep myself and others optimistic, although it is a mission that feels overwhelming sometimes; it is a huge crisis after all.
Do you feel that the crisis will end soon?
I believe that the war in Syria will last long; it is a protracted crisis and I believe that the only way for it to end will be in a political solution. And that solution does not only rely on Syrian efforts or regional efforts, but on global efforts.
How will you utilize your experience in volunteering in the future?
When I go back to Syria one day I want to help the local communities. Educated people like myself will be responsible to help people with zero life standards. Syria has been destroyed, so everyone who had a vocation will need help to rebuild his previous life, and that help should come from people whose utilities are in their brains: their education. I will also help people in the direst needs that were caused by the war; such as orphans, widows, and people with disabilities.