We are totally undone and so privileged to have been able to run our first ever women’s program here on the ground in a refugee camp. It was an incredible 8 weeks! These women (in our program) are refugees forced to flee from their homes over a year and a half ago due to the situation with ISIS. When meeting with the camp director, he mentioned that a program like this had never been done before and that in a year in a half it was the first program of its type. He gave us full permission to move forward and we couldn’t have been more honored!
Stepping foot in this camp, it takes a moment as your eyes adjust to the white tents lined in orderly fashion, row by row. You see the horrific affects of war first hand, and your eyes try to make sense of what you are seeing. Mamas sitting outside, children running around playing with makeshift toys, men sitting in a circle with other men discussing life and important matters. Whole families completely displaced, and forced to leave their livelihoods, education, and homes behind. Life once known lost and put on pause, sometimes never to be returned back to the way it was. Row after row leads way to story after story of pain and devastation, revealing the effects and trauma of war and life as a refugee.
"I am loved! I am brave! And together we can make change!" We start and end every class with these declarations!
Every woman sitting in our little, and often times hot, classroom are the most brave and courageous women we know. Week after week, about 24 of us cram into a small space, a refuge where they can “be” themselves. Behind their vibrant smiles and colorful clothing, their stories are seeped with pain gripping realities of how they fled: the pain they felt when their family members died in front of them, how they escaped a captive city, the pain of not knowing if someone is dead or alive, the agony of waiting if a bomb was going to hit their house. Each week, we saw these women open up more and more as they began to draw images of what they’ve seen and experienced and as they verbally expressed their experiences. They began to allow the other women see them cry, and one by one, they broke down.
The struggle and pain of not only going through what they’ve gone through to now reach the status of being a refugee was difficult, they find It’s the actual act of being displaced and caught in the unknown that has become one of the biggest stressors for most of these women. Their minds replay the events that took place, guilt and shame of what they could have done different, what happened and what they can’t make sense of. One of the women said “Living in this tent, this heat… we don’t feel human.” During our group times, we brought in a few specialists to help these women even further. During the course of the 8 weeks, we had a Clinical Psychologist visit as well as a Art Therapy specialist. By verbalizing these thoughts and feelings and putting words to their experiences, dignity is being restored and the overwhelming pain in their mind and heart begin the journey of healing. “Sometimes the only choice we have is how we choose to be in the midst of our suffering”, says our Psychologist friend. Their livelihoods have been stripped away, and now they are faced with a new set up challenges on how to walk through a situation that is totally out of their control.
This class provides an outlet, a piece of perspective,a space where they can come and allow their wounds to be healed. A glimpse of opportunity each week for them to know that they have purpose, they have fuel to their courage, that by them loving their families and raising their children is ridden with destiny and bravery. The fact that they woke up and got dressed is a huge accomplishment. And each week, their declarations became stronger and stronger as they began to believe the sayings of, “I am loved”, “I am brave” and “together we can make change”. For some, these women struggled to believe that they were more than just someone who cooked and cleaned and had children. Destinies are beginning to unfold, hope is beginning to rise again.
Even though for the three of us, we had never experienced half the things they had experienced, we began to see the value of listening and we saw how that in and of itself, restores dignity. We shared on forgiveness. Forgiving those who have hurt you, forgiving yourself, forgiving your enemy.. for some, it was a hard concept to embrace seeing as their lives have been ripped apart from a real and tangible evil. We also had group discussions on how to forgive in the daily, for the instance of an abusive husband, or a grudge held towards another person. It was the most joy provoking, hearing testimonies during the week how they were able to forgive and love. For many, they believed that by forgiving someone it was a sign of weakness, but through our times together, they were able to embrace the power of forgiveness and how by forgiving it actually empowers you to be healed and made whole. What victory!
This is just the start. Day by day, these women, struggle to choose that there is possible life outside of this present reality of being a refugee. More times than not, its just a struggle to get up, get dressed and put makeup on. But each day, these women are overcoming. They are loving their families, raising their children, loving their husbands. Week by week, they are greeted with new opportunities and a support base of women who remind them that they are not alone in their pain. Each week, they are realizing how courageous they already are! And they are learning all the more of the value and destiny that is truly unique to each one of them. That life has beautiful purpose and that they truly are loved, so very brave, and together are making a difference.