Ameera* and her family were deported from their homeland in Syria. The eldest daughter of 6 siblings, Ameera lives with developmental delays and medical issues.
Ameera, 15, folds the sheets in the bedroom she shares with her siblings. He learned to adapt to his blindness because of the routines he set up. She is alone in her bed every day and succeeds in helping her sister and stepmother with household chores.
Due to medical malpractice, he is also blind. This has only made adapting and settling in Lebanon as Syrian refugees more difficult for Ameera and her family. However, with the help of those around her and through her own determination, Ameera has made great strides in finding confidence.
Ameera’s father, Samer, often takes her to the beach where they collect seashells and spend quality time together.
Samer*, her devout father, fled from Syria to Lebanon with his family in 2012. Most of his earnings were used to treat his family’s frail physical health. But her children are her biggest source of strength to overcome obstacles. He wants to do everything in his power to support and care for them.
She has seen Ameera grow since she started attending safe space sessions led by IRC with her sister Ruqaya. He said, “Three months ago, Ameera did not interact well with children. He is now going out of the house, more aware of his surroundings, and has a desire to explore.”
Ruqaya, 14, hugs her sister, Ameera after a safe space session. She likes to accompany her brother to these sessions, where she also participates in community-building activities among Syrian refugee girls.
This change in her behavior was also observed by Ruqaya, who explained that Ameera would often get angry and fight with her friends, which led to her being antisocial. She said, “After attending the sessions everything in her (Ameera’s) life changed. I even felt that he became closer to me.” This noticeable change in her personality led Ameera to reconcile with her friends and lead a happier social life.
WPE manager Diana Khoury, 33, helped Ameera write her emotions on paper in one of the safe sessions in the IRC space. Ameera’s sister Ruqaya, right, joins them.
Diana is a 33-year-old Lebanese IRC staff member who supports safe space sessions that have helped Ameera, her sister, and countless other women. Her motivation to participate as an Adolescent Girls’ Assistant came from her experience as a young woman who lacked access to important information and resources. She said, “I have the opportunity to give these women access to the information they really need.” It was, and still is, taboo to discuss certain issues in the wider community; especially on the topic of mental and reproductive health. Diana is determined to give the girls the community support she was denied growing up.
Safe spaces give girls creative outlets to express their emotions.
Photo: Dalia Khamissy for IRC
Diana also noticed a significant change in Ameera’s quality of life after the IRC sessions they tailored according to her special needs. They were able to create a safe space tailored to address his specific concerns. It is important to gradually build his confidence so that he feels comfortable expressing himself. It took about 4-5 sessions for her to open up and start participating in activities with other girls.
“The most important lesson I teach girls is to always speak up and seek support,” says Diana. “This is a critical first step in improving their self-esteem, self-confidence and actually solving problems.”
Ameera spoke to other Syrian refugee women at the end of the drawing event in a safe space session. The women supported him by telling him that his presence in the sessions was important to them.
This kind of support allows women like Ameera to live more confidently. Diana explains how to start each session with handicraft activities that help the girls feel comfortable with their surroundings. Gradually, trust was built and the staff emphasized the confidentiality of the conversations held in the sessions. This ensures their attention and trust.
Since 2011, Syrian society has been torn apart by brutal violence, creating one of the biggest humanitarian crises of the 21st century. 6.7 million people are still missing inside Syria and 15.3 million are in need of humanitarian aid.
Many civilians are left living in perpetual conflict zones and have been displaced many times. Women and children are especially vulnerable to various safety issues including sexual violence, early marriage, child labor, as well as physical and mental trauma. The conflict was exacerbated by the earthquakes that affected Northern Syria in February 2023. One of the ways that the IRC provides assistance to those affected is through various support programs for Syrian refugees in Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon.
Ameera posed for a picture with her father Samer, her stepmother Asma, 33 and her siblings; from left to right, Ahsan, 8, Ruqaya, 14, Hassan, 11, and Zain, 6, in their apartment. The sessions improved Ameera’s ability to communicate and interact with her parents and siblings.
“The thing I like most about Ameera,” her father said with a smile, “is how active she is, despite her condition. He never stopped.”
Ruqaya now enjoys spending most of her time with her sister. Together at the center, they play with toys, draw, color, and make a Lebanese salad called tabbouleh. Ameera lives a life full of community and caring. He develops friendships, is more outgoing, navigates his home better, communicates better and is happier.
He dreams of continuing his education and attending university one day.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the interviewees.