A Young Desire to Help
Maya is a 14 year old girl and one of millions of Syrian children displaced from their home. I met her in the Chouf district of Mount Lebanon, where she now lives with her parents and six siblings.
Maya sits down in her white hijab and tells me her story. A story very different from ones I have heard before from teenage girls. She was forced to leave her home and all of her belongings behind. Maya’s home had been bombed and destroyed. When I asked Maya about Syria and her feelings, her eyes were filled with tears. "I cannot talk about how I feel,” says Maya. “Every time I try to remember I burst into tears". Maya’s aunt and mother are sitting next to her. They also start crying.
Maya and her family had to flee to Lebanon more than one year ago as life in Syria had become unbearable. "The shelling was everywhere,” explains Maya. “One moment we were standing in a calm street, then suddenly the shelling started and we had to run while covering our heads". Maya’s family was displaced to different areas inside Syria for more than two and a half years before reaching Lebanon. "I was arrested, I was robbed, I have been through many things,” says Zeid, Maya’s father. “Until today I do not even know how we reached this place. We had not known anyone here".
For the past several months Maya was working in a clothes store to help her family make ends meet. The harsh treatment she had been encountering from her boss made her leave work just a few days ago. "I could not handle it anymore,” says Maya. “I was supposed to work in the store. However, my boss wanted me to be a maid. She wanted me to clean her husband's office and her house. Every day after work I would come home crying. One time at work I fell down the stairs and my arm was injured. Instead of letting me go home to rest I was only allowed a brief break and then I had to go back to work. I was even forced to work an additional hour to compensate for the hour I missed that day."
Despite being very young, Maya feels that she is responsible for helping her displaced family. “I only started working because of my family’s really difficult circumstances,” says Maya. “My father could not find a job that pays a decent wage at all, but he never wanted me to work. He was against any of his children working because he is afraid something could happen to us and he believes that it is his responsibility to provide for the family. At the same time, I feel very guilty and am still looking for a new job. My father continues to reject the idea but I will persuade him and anyhow we need to provide the basics for the family. We are many persons at home and it is not enough that only he works. My older sister helps my mother with the household and I want to help my father.”
Maya’s father works as the grounds-man of the football field outside their shelter. The owner owns the shelter where we stay and has made an arrangement with my father to not pay him a salary but in return we do not pay rent. "I tried to find a job, but every time I tried working somewhere new, the business owner would fire me when he does not need me anymore. Often they would then not even pay me," says Zeid. The family covers their food needs through food vouchers they receive from the UN, although this is not enough to cover all their essential food needs.
Maya’s family received assistance from CARE during last winter for water and sanitation repairs and has since also been receiving cash assistance for immediate needs over the past two months which is spent on paying off debts and to buy medication.
Maya says that her father decided the family had to flee to Lebanon to protect Maya and her sister, making her feel even guiltier. "Girls in Syria were being kidnapped and raped and my father did not want that to happen to us,” says Maya. “Before the war started we were living a calm life. As girls we usually spent our time at home playing with our cousins. My parents always tell us that girls are very precious and that they have to protect us all the time. Life in Lebanon is different and more expensive. People treat us as outsiders so we hardly go out and we do not have local friends. We do not enjoy life. I miss our home, my friends and the place where we grew up. All I can hope for is that we will return one day."
While talking to Maya it strikes me how strong a child's love can be towards their parents and siblings. When I was young I sometimes used to work during weekends to earn extra pocket money to spend on something fun and my own treats, never having to think about helping out at home. But, this young girl has put all her desires aside, doing everything she can to help her family survive. I cannot help wondering about girls all around the world who are sacrificing everything to do just like Maya. And for what reason? Because of the love they have for their family.
Written by Racha El Daoi, Communications and Information Management Senior Assistant