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Azhar’s story: “For a 12-year-old girl, I felt my future was lost.”

Azhar at the Refugee Center in Jordan. Photo: Kate Adelung

Azhar at the Refugee Center in Jordan. Photo: Kate Adelung

My name is Azhar, I’m 15, in ninth grade. I live in Jordan. I was born in Syria.

I have a mother and father, a brother younger than me and a brother older than me.

When we lived in Syria, I used to face a lot of difficulties in terms of school, in terms of living, in terms of everything we had.

Because of the armed militants, I was forced to wear the hijab and niqab. I was seven years old, but I couldn’t go out of the house. I had to be covered from head to toe. Because if there was a man, he might get ideas.

School was forbidden, too, especially for girls. But I thought that didn’t affect me, because my mother used to tell me that school wasn’t actually canceled, it was just a holiday, so I thought it was normal.

A school in Northern Syria. Photo: Shafak/CARE

“It was like I was a totally different person”

Then, there was war. There were planes, there was blood in everything, everywhere around me. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to live, waking up to find the neighbors dead. Blood everywhere.

I was very afraid of the planes, and I had health problems. Asthma and other things.

And then, suddenly, we left. We went to the camps, and life was almost normal. We went to school, but it wasn’t really a school. It wasn’t in a building, just in a tent, and all the kids, older or younger, we all just had the same classes.

But I had a plan for my life and for my future. I envisioned doing great things. Then, when we left the camps and came here, to Jordan, when I entered school, it was like I was a totally different person.

I was bullied a lot that first year.

When we left Syria, I was very upset because, even though life was very difficult, I didn’t want to go, but we did. Then, when I came here and was bullied that first year, I hated everything more and more.

A drawing in Azhar’s journal. Photo: Kate Adelung

“Eventually, I had to leave school”

When I first entered school, of course, I wanted to make friends, to learn the rules. But they had categories – Jordanians, Syrians, Palestinians – and everyone, even the teachers, would say, “Look at her, listen to how she talks, her accent. She’s Syrian. We don’t have to get her books. Go buy books for yourself.”

So I put a barrier between me and them. I decided I’m not talking to anyone. I took the last desk. I took the last staircase. I didn’t want to talk with anyone or see anyone, even the teachers. If anyone laughed in class, I thought they were laughing at me, at how I looked, how my accent sounded. Even when I wanted to participate, I worried about how loud my voice was, about my accent, so I tried to change my tone, talk quieter, because I was being bullied.

I stopped talking. I didn’t want to be with anyone.

For a 12-year-old girl, I felt my future was lost.

Eventually, I had to leave school because of my family’s financial circumstances.

Papa has epileptic seizures. He has a brain tumor. He tried to work the first year we came here to Jordan, in a workshop, but he had a seizure and there was a nail. He got a nail in his eye.

So, instead of just the seizures, we had two problems – his eye and his seizures.

My mother is considered the head of the family, now. She is trying to take responsibility for all of us, and so is my older brother, who is a mechanic, but it’s hard. We’re still trying to cut expenses.

My younger brother is the spoiled brat right now. He has nothing to do.

A drawing in Azhar’s journal. Photo: Kate Adelung

“CARE picked me up”

After I dropped out, I went to work at a beauty salon. Everyone smoked, and I had asthma, so I used to go home and complain to my mother, but she couldn’t do anything. That lasted for a year.

And, almost as a last resort, my mother signed me up for CARE.

One of her friends knew about CARE — her daughter was in the program — so she told my mother, and my mother signed me up. And they chose me.

Because of CARE, I went back to school, and I felt like I had returned to being a normal person. I felt like any other child on this planet who has one of the most basic rights – education.

CARE picked me up. Me and many people like me, younger and older. They gave me a chance to achieve what I have in my mind, and what I hope for. God willing, no one will be disappointed.

The refugee center in Jordan. Photo: Kate Adelung

“A way to empty yourself of negative energy”

I’ve been in love with drawing for a while, but now I draw all the time. Every day. What I see, I put on paper. It’s a good way, a sweet way to empty yourself of negative energy, empty it on a sheet of paper. It’s a much sweeter way than exposing someone else to your bad vibes, your negative energy.

A drawing in Azhar’s journal. Photo: Kate Adelung

People think Syria is just war and armed militants and everyone is dressed in black. But Syria is beautiful, with green fields and great people.

Now, I want everyone to know I’m Syrian. I think, when you’re in that type of terrible situation, you have to search for a point to reach for that will help you out of the situation you’re in. You have to keep thinking about the future and find a point to reach for that will help you out of the situation, and plan for what you’ll do when you get to that point.

My dream is that Syria will return to what it was before the war, and the bad people who are in Syria now, the people who ruined it, they won’t be able to touch it. They’ll only be able to see it from a distance The country will have returned to the people, the people as they were. A woman who was there before, she will be able to return to how she used to live. And we’ll return to it, too, and, god willing, together we will all live it up.

*Azhar’s name has been changed to protect her privacy. 

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