Syria Crisis: CARE Empowers Refugees with Hope

Syria Crisis: CARE Empowers Refugees with Hope

Publication info

Mary Kate MacIsaac

“I don’t want to be an unheard refugee, feeling so weak, not doing anything.”

Seated in a circle, surrounded by a handful of Syrian refugee volunteers, Motaz leads an ad-hoc conversation addressing psychosocial issues. Each person takes a moment to reflect before sharing their comments. The small group meets weekly with Motaz and other Syrian volunteers as they follow a prepared course of training.  

Motaz*, 27, is a protection field officer for CARE Turkey where he is supporting Syrian refugee volunteers with trainings and information sessions across a range of diverse and sometimes sensitive topics including psychological first aid, hygiene promotion, gender based violence, and early marriage. In weekly trainings, Motaz prepares cadres of information volunteers who, through house visits, peer-to-peer education, and group discussions participate in outreach activities that foster a more self-reliant community. Through simple but effective messaging, volunteers use a participatory approach in providing refugees with vital information and psychological first aid with a goal of creating positive change in their communities.   

Motaz is a Palestinian-Syrian refugee from Yarmouk near Damascus. He fled to Turkey seven months ago after years of providing psychological support to people affected by the war in Syria. With studies in psychosocial health, he had started as a volunteer providing support to Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk, and then found work offering psychosocial services to displaced people from Homs. After fleeing Syria, Motaz joined CARE out of a solidarity and commitment to assisting people in need, but also as a reminder to himself that he is not without a voice or the capacity to make a difference.

“I don’t want to be an unheard refugee – not doing anything, or feeling so weak,” he said, during a quiet moment between training activities with Syrian refugee volunteers.

“I don’t feel I’m doing something unless I’m participating in making a difference.” The 27-year-old prepares trainings for Syrian information volunteers that, using a participatory approach, are aimed at both supporting the community psychosocially, but also helping form opinion leaders among the community.

“I need to be in touch with the people, I need to keep in touch with their suffering – this is what motivates me to work more, to push myself always,” explains Motaz.

Even after a car bomb exploded next to his family’s home, Motaz chose to remain in Syria.  “After that, all of my family left. They separated, scattering in six different directions.  But I stayed because I felt I belonged. I had nowhere to go. Where would I go? All we had was in Syria. Our lives were there. I thought, if I escape, to where? With what?”
But Motaz eventually left Yarmouk and for the following 18 months moved between several areas in Syria. The situation was growing more dangerous each day and he knew he could not stay any longer. “I had so much hope before that, but it failed me. I decided I must leave,” he says. Before escaping, he was stopped by armed groups who took everything, not uncommon in the journey of many refugees. Motaz arrived in Turkey alone and with little more than his will to serve.

Today he is dedicated to creating awareness of important issues within the refugee community through CARE’s information volunteers.    

“CARE’s volunteer program is helping meet the needs of refugees, through helping volunteers do something for their community. The volunteers choose and develop the activity. We train them with some sessions, whether in hygiene promotion or gender-based violence. Then they try it, and share it through their home visits.” 

“The main thing we want is to convey to them that they can do something. It empowers them. They don’t feel helpless anymore and they share this power with others. This happens with an increased awareness or sensitivity to a topic. For example, some suffer from early marriage, or fear of it. Families worry for the protection of their daughters. They want to protect them from rape and abuse that is often used as a weapon in war. The refugee situation makes this problem worse. It creates tensions. But when they understand that early marriage can actually do more to harm the girl than to protect her, then we can discuss other ways.” 

Thinking positively is key in these trainings, says Motaz.
“I’m training them to express their feelings, but to do this positively. We want to transform negative thinking into something positive. We discuss how to focus on ideas more positively, even in this situation – to consider vocational training, or other ways to improve themselves, despite their circumstances.”  

The community response to the awareness raising efforts has been overwhelmingly positive, Motaz says.  “When you see the light in their eyes, you understand what it means to them.  They await us every week.  They look for us to come.  Everything though, depends on relationship.  When you can build that trust, you can accomplish so much.”  

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the individual.

Avin, Shereen, and Hayat are among a cadre of information volunteers trained by CARE to provide psychosocial services to the community, through home visits, group sessions, and role-playing. © 2015 Mary Kate MacIsaac/CARE