*names changed to protect privacy
I came across an uplifting piece by David Sim of the IB Times featuring gorgeous photographs of Syrian girls envisioning their future career goals. They pose as a radiologist examining X-Rays or as an architect holding building and project plans.
The series is called “When I Grow Up” and was commissioned by the International Rescue Committee for the Vision not Victim project. The project moved me to tears. I have a daughter and so many of our discussions are about her dreams and what I can do to help her succeed. The girls photographed in this project have survived trauma, violent conflict and some are in displaced in refugee camps. This does not mean that they stop dreaming or hoping.
I recently spoke with *Fatima, a young Syrian woman, who moved from Lebanon. Her family arrived six weeks ago as refugees in Canada. She is 15 years-old. She had not been in a regular school for at least three years. Through no fault of her own, she has missed out on learning opportunities because her family was trying to survive. When she is registered, she will be put into grade 7 even though she ought to be in grade 9.
I asked her through a teen volunteer translator I took along, what she wants to be when she grows up. She didn’t miss a beat. “I want to be a lawyer and work with refugees and help them,” she said. My Arabic is not strong but I listened quietly as she chatted with the young woman who came to help us manage through the language barriers. She smiled and explained in detail and I waited for my friend to turn and tell me what she said. At that moment I desperately wished I spoke Arabic beyond my basic “Yallah” and “Taa’la”.
I was excited to hear that she wanted to be a lawyer. The idea of young women who have survived so much thinking about careers that can help others is incredibly humbling.
They have tremendous obligations, settling into a new country, new language and new community are difficult. But it is crucial to keep thinking about their livelihoods and their career goals. They need to be nurtured and supported. Sometimes it is possible to be in a stable situation but then there are efforts to provide tools and empowerment to girls in refugee camps with art projects or tremendous sports endeavours.
Like so many young girls who have been robbed of their childhood joys due to a horrific conflict in their homeland, they need to play and dream. Art and healing through art are important ways to let children express their fears and their hopes. The ‘Vision not Victim’ project also does this while allowing the girls to be the subjects and create their own narrative. This can be very empowering particularly when centering around what their vision is for their lives.
Sports is a similar way to find normalcy in life beyond the trauma that many young girls have experienced. Football in particular provide an opportunity to encourage the girls, provide a means for enjoyment and help develop healthy life choices.
I had to wipe my tears when I read details and hear stories of young Syrian girls finding small joys from a soccer game, but I had to wonder whether the coverage of these projects really help or whether they were tools being used for clickbait.
Fatima tells me they matter. “They help us feel happy,” she says. “My sisters might not have played as much at home but had the chance in the camps. There was not much more to do so they would have made us crazy if they didn’t have this.” She grins.
Admittedly, Fatima did not play as much. She helped her mother a lot with the chores.
But she said she heard about opportunities for women when she found out her family would be coming to Canada. “There was a lady who is now in government, right?” She is speaking of Maryam Monsef, a Liberal MP from Peterborough, Canada who came to Canada as a refugee. Canada is built on land of people who all immigrated- except for Indigenous Peoples. “Yes,” I say.
I asked her if she was always so positive.
Fatima says there was no time to be negative. “There were always younger children around. You can’t really give up. You think of better and that helps when situation is bad. I miss my home and my friends. I had a cat. But my life is here now. I want to go back someday.”
I ask Fatima if the these photographs and projects truly reflect a reality. She replies in Arabic but I pick up on her quick “Na’am” (yes). “You don’t stop thinking about what can happen [when you move]. As a child, you always wonder. What am I going to study? What will I be?”
That is exactly what these young girls need. To wonder, to dream. And if projects such as these inspire them to keep dreaming about their future successes then I am happy to support that. And keep clicking.
Not all girls feel comfortable in sport which is why music and arts are so important. They can pursue what they feel they enjoy the most.
I noticed that in every one of the ‘Vision not Victims’ profiles, the girls mentioned a career being able to help other people. Professions in which they were treating, teaching and fostering a better society. Despite all the hardship they have faced, they have never forgotten the need to rebuild and contribute.
“What is the point of being blessed with a gift if you can’t share it?” Fatima says. “You want to make your home [community] better, right?”
The dreams of so many young women are a privilege for the world. And I sincerely hope they dream big, insha’Allah. Before I go, I turn to Fatima and ask if she can tutor me in Arabic. “Yes,” she says smiling. “I will help you.”