Lebanese artist illustrates stories of women refugees from Syria

September 16, 2015

Concern works in Lebanon with Syrian families to provide shelter, safe water, education for children, and protection services for all — and also strives to support their voices. The six stories below illustrate the plight women face in protecting themselves and, oftentimes, their children.

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In 2014, Concern traveled to northern Lebanon to hear the stories of Syrian women who fled their homes for safety. While we conducted lengthy interviews, we also recruited Lebanese artist Hanane Kai to illustrate the harrowing tales of six women refugees currently receiving support from Concern.

According to the latest numbers from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 50.5 percent of refugees from Syria are women or girls. Like the men, they fled their homes under extreme pressure, having witnessed or experienced violence. Often,  they were responsible for small children, or even newborns.

The six women whose stories appear below were ripped from stable families and full lives. Carrying little beyond their memories, they made unthinkably long and treacherous journeys for refuge that was neither promised nor certain.

Fedaa

Illustration of Feeda by Hanane Kai.

Fedaa is a divorced artist and mother of two girls. While most refugees arrived in Lebanon with nothing save the clothes on her back, she brought a number of her drawings and diaries, as well as an empty package of Kent cigarettes. The pack had belonged to her brother, Mustafa.

She showed visitors the cigarette pack and said she continues to imagine he will appear one day at her door.

The two were extremely close from childhood on. Together, they chased chickens and played games, and later he later taught her to smoke. He was part of a group that rescued people from buildings bombed by the regime. He was killed in a mortar attack. She’s never been able to visit his graveside, as it is located in an area that was too dangerous for her to visit. She showed visitors the cigarette pack and said she continues to imagine he will appear one day at her door.

Amina

Illustration by Hanane Kai.

Amina had just given birth by C-section a few days earlier when it was announced from the village mosque that everyone should flee immediately because the village, thought to be a center for “rebels,” would be bombed. Most of the men had already fled to avoid arrest. Amina watched the women trudging into the hills with their children, but she didn’t know how she could make the trip with disabled Taghrid, a newborn, and four other small ones.

She realized she had to save who she could. She had to leave Taghrid behind.

She began to hit herself, telling herself to think harder. Then she realized, she had to save who she could. She had to leave Taghrid behind. She pulled her baby into her chest, told the four others to follow close, and said goodbye to Taghrid. She began to leave. And then she realized she couldn’t. She returned home, carried Taghrid onto the lawn that had once been a place of childhood games, and sank down to cry, sure she and her children would die that night. Luckily the village was not bombed overnight, and the next morning, her brother arrived to help the family escape.

Farah

Illustration of Farah by Hanane Kai.

Farah’s husband had already fled to Lebanon but she didn’t want to leave Syria; she loved her homeland and didn’t want to be a refugee. However, after she argued with a soldier who shot one of her cows, soldiers began routinely entering her home, turning over furniture, throwing dishes on the floor and generally harassing her. Finally, her daughter, so frozen by fear, stopped speaking at all, so she decided to make the trip.

When they saw a soldier, the girl said, “If you are going to shoot my mama, shoot me.”

She came from a well-to-do background; she set out at 4 a.m. one morning in low heels and a nice dress, her daughter clinging to her back and her son at her side. She didn’t realize she would have to walk all the way. She didn’t get to Lebanon until 25 hours later. She was exhausted, her shoes long gone, her dress in shreds. Her daughter spoke her first words in a week on the trip; when they saw a soldier, the girl said, “If you are going to shoot my mama, shoot me.”

Alaa

Illustration of Alaa by Hanane Kai.

After her village began to be bombed, Alaa’s husband and the other men decided to dig caves into the mountains and move their families there: forty women and children per cave, spending most of their hours within its confines. Even the children bit back the impulse to play in the fresh air — especially when they heard planes overhead.

Alaa and her children began to eat grass to survive.

Her kids — all the kids, in fact — began talking about nothing save weapons and war. They screamed and threw themselves onto the ground at the mere sound of an airplane. At first, the men brought their families cracked wheat and water for sustenance, but then the food began to run out. Alaa and her children began to eat grass to survive. Eventually they sold everything they had and raised the $2,000 needed to pay their way across the border.

Fadwa

Illustration of Fadwa by Hanane Kai.

Fawda, born crippled, lost her leg to gangrene as a schoolgirl. But her parents taught her to never to feel sorry for herself. She never imagined she would marry so she made sure she was well educated and got a good job.

She stressed that being disabled — like being a refugee — is more a state of mind…

Then she did meet someone at her cousin’s wedding. They talked by Internet for a couple years as good friends, and he proposed. Now she has two children. She decided she had to have the strength to leave Syria, leaving her beloved parents behind, after her home was shelled; her daughter’s room was hit but the girl was fine. She stressed that being disabled — like being a refugee — is more a state of mind than a physical state.

Asia

Illustration of Asia by Hanane Kai.

Asia and her husband ran a market from home, and Asia was a guiding light in her community on issues of childcare and cooking. One Friday in March, with two feet of snow on the ground, Asia was boiling ten gallons of milk to make yogurt when a loudspeaker warned villagers they would be shelled before two hours had passed. “We didn’t even lock our front door,” Asia said. “We ran out within 15 minutes. People were like ants, walking in the snow.” That night, the family slept in a mosque about seven miles away — but not far enough to be out of the range of the shelling, which they heard.

The only item she found intact was a wall clock that a relative had given them as a wedding gift… now it hangs in her refugee shelter.

After the fourth night in the mosque, she decided to go look once more at their home, though they’d been warned more shelling was likely. It was a difficult visit. Theirs had been a two-story home, spacious and comfortable. Now nearly everything was destroyed. The only item she found intact was a wall clock that a relative had given them as a wedding gift years — a lifetime — earlier. She tucked it under her arm, never looking back. Now it hangs in her refugee shelter.

*Names have been changed for the safety of those interviewed. 


 

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