Light From the Darkness

In speaking with refugees over the past three weeks about the darkness that is the refugee crisis, I have found light in some unexpected places. Can an experience so devastating for these refugees bring about new opportunities that may not have been available otherwise?

Last week, in an interview I asked a young Iraqi woman about how she makes big decisions. She told us that she did not make those decisions, her dad did. “I can’t be the leader,” she says. “I always follow the command. That’s the way most Iraqi’s raise their daughters.” It is no secret that women’s agency and rights are limited in most cultures. In the United States, for instance, a women’s right to make healthcare choices about her own body is still contested and restricted in many states. In the interview, I follow up by asking how her decision making has changed since she’s been in Jordan. The answer I received was somewhat surprising. “Yes it has changed,” she said. “If [my son] gets sick, I will take him to the pharmacy by myself. I feel confident now.” Previously, this woman could not cross the street without holding a man’s hand but now as a refugee, she has the agency to make decisions for herself, and it has meant so much to her.

In a meeting with the Jordan Health Aid Society, President Dr. Aljouni shared information about what he sees as a light in the Syrian crisis. Thirty years ago, he said, women were not allowed to go to school or watch TV. Since the crisis, women have become exposed to other areas of the world and the rights and privileges they have, where they begin to see how unjust and unfair your situation is and demand access to healthcare, good education, and self-determination. Without the turmoil that is the refugee crisis people may not have been exposed to a more liberated lifestyle.

Similarly, in a site visit to a White Hands school in Mafraq earlier this week, we got to witness the beautiful and happy primary school kids from Syria. Mafraq is a very rural area of Jordan, only 15 km from the Syrian border. Many of the kids live much closer to the border and also come from very rural backgrounds. The school is accredited by the Jordanian government. When speaking with some of the teachers and staff at the school, they mentioned that many of these kids would not have access to an education in rural Syria, but because they are refugees here in Jordan, they have access to a quality education with dedicated teachers and staff.

To find light in a world of darkness by no means justifies the darkness; however, it can certainly make it less gloomy. It is incredibly unfortunate that people somehow gain agency in survival situations and not in comfort. In other words, something so drastic must happen in their life to level their respective playing field. In other words, people have exposure to a new world that they would not have known unless they survived the conflict. This exposure lets them know that they can want more and achieve more.

Bryce Cracknell is a T’18 Alum, and was a 2017 Immerse Participant, and Kenan Research Assistant.

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