Stories of Refugee Women in Lebanon
Around the world, women face unimaginable daily struggles. Whether it’s fetching water for their family, fighting for their rights to land, or escaping war.
In 2019 we met refugee women in Lebanon who are living all of these realities. Often alone because their husbands have died or abandoned them, or with extra children to care for as their families are not able to.
These stories should be headline news. The turbulent pasts of these women, their scars, and memories shared so that they can receive recognition for their efforts and justice for the atrocities that they face every day.
Empowering women by sharing their stories
Whilst in Lebanon capturing content for the Build Solid Ground project, I was able to meet and interview some of these women. Women who approached Habitat for Humanity for support to ensure their lives and their families lives can be safer, happier, and more comfortable.
Reflecting on the trip which happened over a month ago, I still cannot believe some of the stories I heard. No doubt they will stay with me forever. It was therefore the strength and resilience of these women that inspired me to write this post and I hope it pays fair tribute to them.
Written by Heidi, our Digital Marketing Executive
The Syrian Refugee Crisis: what's happening now?
For nearly a decade, war has consumed the Syrian nation causing over 5 million people to flee to the surrounding countries.
Over time, Lebanon has accepted nearly 2 million Syrian and Palestinian refugees. The refugee population now makes up 30%, filling a country that is 20 times smaller than the UK to the brim. Although the situation in Syria has started to settle, there remains a general sense of despair, and lack of hope from hosts and refugees alike that the Syrian refugees will ever be able to return.
Despite Lebanon’s own healing wounds (its most recent civil war only ended 20 years ago) the country’s adaptability and resilience in response to the war in Syria and influx of displaced families has been remarkable.
Improved housing for refugee families
Our work in Lebanon has supported the efforts of the Lebanese government and other agencies working in the country to provide refugees with a safe place to call home.
Besides the 12 main camps, there are hundreds of smaller settlements scattered all over the country. Many are severely overpopulated and are in a state of general despair, but by making small renovations and improvements to abandoned, temporary, or war-torn homes, Habitat for Humanity Lebanon have supported over 30,000 people.
Sahab, Rasha, Inaam: the refugee women breaking barriers in Lebanon
In her own words: Sahab
“My mother lives with me and my 6 children, so there are 8 of us in one house with 3 rooms. I don’t know where my husband is. I don’t know if he is even alive. A few years ago he went back to Syria to check on our house and crops, he never came back.”
Life as a single mother
“It’s hard raising 6 children by myself in this environment. They need schooling, food, clothes, my mother needs medication, so I have to cope with all of this. Thank god I was able to find a job so that I can pay for the electricity, water and medication for the kids, and whatever’s left we use to buy food and kerosene for the fire.”
We worked with Sahab to build the most important parts of a home a large family should have: a kitchen and bathroom.
“Before the renovations we had to go to friends or families houses to use the bathroom and kitchen. We had no kitchen and the bathroom was outside. Spring, summer, winter, we had to go outside even when it was below freezing. Winter is very cold, we need 1000 litres of kerosene to keep the heater going.”
A real life Superwoman
To her local community, Sahab is known as Superwoman.
“I don’t know why they call me that. But it might be because I’m not lazy, I work hard. I never want my children to beg for money. My children have to learn that they have to work hard.”
In her own words: Rasha
All teenagers need privacy, especially young women like Rasha. In Lebanon’s refugee camps, girls and women are often forced to walk outside to go to the toilet or sleep in common areas with no doors or locks for privacy. By removing the barriers that women and girls face day-to-day we can help them build a better future.
“I’m so happy, now I have a bedroom door so I can lock my little sister out!”
In her own words: Inaam
Inaam’s family fled Syria in 2011. Her father died in 2018.
“I remember escaping Syria. There was shelling on all sides of our house, but it was as if we were divinely protected. On the day we left it was cold and raining. We said goodbye to my father as he said he would follow us later. When we first moved to Lebanon, we lived in a tent. Then we found this small house to rent. When we first arrived it was filthy, full of cockroaches and scorpions. We never felt safe, we were broken into a couple of times.”
An uncertain future
“All I want is for my mother to be ok. I must support my family, so if that means standing in front of the mosque and begging I will do it, if that means giving my blood, I will do that…
I wish I could have wings, I would put my mother on one wing and my brother and family on the other and fly them back home, but there’s nothing for me here.”
Inaam’s story will stay with me forever. At 23 years old, we’re the same age. We both have our whole lives ahead of us and yet Inaam feels hers is already over. It was devastating to hear.
The possibility of a new start in life
As part of our Middle-East programme, we will work with Inaam’s family to refurbish their home. We’ll replace the windows and doors, repair the bathroom, and fit a hot water boiler.
After seeing the transformational impact of completed homes in Lebanon and how much they had allowed refugee women to change their lives, I can only hope that Inaam’s life and outlook for the future will change too.
In her own words: Sana
“I’ve never known what prosperity looks like.”
Women need access to water to provide for their families
A mother of 5, Sana spent years washing her children in buckets of cold water as there were no sanitation facilities in the temporary refugee settlement where she was living. Now her family, along with a few others, rent land and more permanent structures off a local landowner.
A new bathroom and hot water
“I’m so much happier. It’s a huge improvement, I can bathe the children, I can wash up. Before we installed sanitation facilities you had to heat the water in a bucket, carry it around, sometimes it would be weeks before the children could bath again because it would be too cold…
I can’t compare the situation I’m living in now to before. We used to live in a tent, so having solid walls and running water is completely life-changing.”
In her own words: Heidi
Most of us are lucky. We don’t know what war is like, what having to flee our country is like. We only see what’s presented to us in the media, through a screen showing us events happening thousands of miles away.
This week I came close to understanding what it is like. I felt the pain, hardship and courage of these families, especially the women who could have been me, my mum, or my grandma.
What I noticed throughout the week was that the women we spoke to wanted to share their stories. They weren’t scared, it was painful for them, but cathartic. Gradually as they spoke they appeared more confident and empowered, and I hope in sharing their stories now they will feel that even more.
Women and the Syrian refugee crisis: what does the future hold?
In refugee camps around the world, acts of violence, trauma, and poverty unfairly fall on women. Whilst many organisations focus on short-term relief, the emphasis of our programmes is on long-term support by responding to shelter need.
Despite the improved situation in Syria, most women believe they will never be able to go home. This is why ensuring they have a decent place to live is crucial to improving their lives in Lebanon.
Giving a voice to the most vulnerable
If you would like to support our Middle-East Programme, you can do so by
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This blog was produced as part of the Build Solid Ground project, which is aimed at raising awareness around the Sustainable Development Goals including number 5: Gender Equality and 11: Sustainable Cities.