Maela is a Partnership Manager at All We Can, focusing on responding to protracted crises in Jordan and Bangladesh as well as supporting long-term development partners in Liberia. She has a background in working with refugees and host communities in the Middle East. Below, she reflects on the themes of this year’s Refugee Week.
‘Refugee Week is celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary. Refugee Week enables people from different backgrounds to connect beyond labels, as well as encourages understanding of why people are displaced, and the challenges they face when seeking safety. This year, we are exploring the theme of ‘Healing’.’
In mid-2021, it was estimated that 84 million people had been forcibly displaced worldwide. 84 million people, who lost their homes and loved ones. 84 million people, who had to build new lives from scratch, sometimes far away from their home country.
A high number of refugees put their lives at risk during their migrations and then experienced prejudice, racism, and discrimination in their host countries. Yet, we have much to learn from refugees as they help enrich host communities and cultures by bringing novel knowledge, skills, and practices. They also stimulate the economy by bringing productivity and complementing the job market. But above all, refugees can teach us about adaptability, resilience, and healing. Indeed, who better understands the meaning of “healing” than those who lost everything and had to start over?
Since a group of Methodists answered the call of refugees in Europe in the 1930s, All We Can has remained committed to supporting refugee communities. Since 2015, we have been working together with partners addressing Syrian refugees’ needs in Jordan and in 2017, we extended our support to respond to the Rohingya refugees influx in Bangladesh. Beyond addressing their immediate needs, All We Can’s support has allowed refugees to heal from trauma and fulfil their potential.
In Jordan, All We Can is supporting a sewing workshop that is allowing Syrian women in Za’atari Refugee Camp to find a safe space and have their skills benefit the community as they produce face masks, baby baskets and clothes and school uniforms that are then distributed to households in need. One of the workshop participants, Samia*, arrived in Za’atari Camp almost 10 years ago possessing only what she was wearing: ‘Now, thank God, we have a house and everything. We established ourselves from scratch’ she reflects. Besides generating a vital income to support her family, the sewing workshop is an opportunity for Samia to reconnect with her passion: ‘I have been a seamstress for 45 years in Syria. […] The best thing in my life is sewing. This is my hobby and what I am looking for. It is in my blood.
Education is another essential tool for refugees to heal and can help remove barriers to fulfilling their potential. In Bangladesh, Rohingya refugees have faced many barriers to accessing education as learning facilities remained closed in Kutupalong refugee camp for more than 18 months during the Covid-19 pandemic. Additionally, the lack of qualified female teachers – only 10% of teachers in the camp are women – deprives girls of role models and reduces their enrolment in education. To address those barriers, All We Can supported the development of Self-Learning Kits and a Teacher Development Training program – which has helped support young women like Setara.
After her parents died, Setara had to drop out of school to take care of her 4 siblings. But, as the young woman explained, life in the camp was extremely hard: ‘I didn’t have much education so I couldn’t get a job anywhere.’ When Setara received the Self-Learning Kit designed by All We Can’s humanitarian aid partner, Setara was able to acquire basic literacy and numeracy in both Burmese and English, which has been an enormous help for her: ‘After studying, I got a job as a volunteer at UNHCR’s Gas Distribution Centre. Now that I got the opportunity to study, I want to learn even more. I feel so much more confident now that I can manage my day-to-day life.’
Discover All We Can’s Refugee Week resources for you and your church here.
* Name changed to protect identity