Isabella Arbalaez: Hope

A Syrian toddler boy is lost in the library at White Hands School in Mafraq, Jordan.

Hanan, a young Iraqi mother, smiles as she shows the Immerse team her son’s recent marks in school. Red stars and “Montex [Excellent]” have been written across his worksheets. Included in the pile of worksheets is a certificate of completion of KG1. Hanan kisses her son Hamzi as he shows the family’s visitors his work. Hanan and her family have been in Jordan since 2012 since fleeing Saladin, Iraq. Despite the high education fees that Iraqi refugee families have to pay for their children’s education in Jordan (equal to what any foreigner has to pay), Hanan’s three children are all in school.  This raises the question of why a family like Hanan’s or the countless other refugee families we met, who can barely afford to fill their fridge with food, would sacrifice that money to send their children to school.

For Iraqi and Syrian refugee families alike, their children present a certain hope. In the midst of being a refugee and the uncertainty that derives from this state, for these parents, their children provide a constant source of promise for the future. During our interviews, the topic of children was always tied to the question of future. As Hanan shared with the Immerse team, “Because both of us [she and her husband], no one supports us. We built ourselves from zero. We are sacrificed for them.”

This hope is consistent across both Syrian and Iraqi families. Muhammad, a 61-year-old Syrian man who only left Syria in 2013, knows his time on this earth is short. He shared with the Immerse team, “For me, forget my future… I wish the good future for my children. I wish, I believe I had a good life. So, it’s okay if I’m going to live for the next couple of years from up to down, I’m going to handle it. But for them, they didn’t see anything, they’re still young.” His two sons look to be in their early twenties, both of them had been in the university back in Syria. Now in Jordan, the family cannot afford to pay for their education and his sons spend their days selling candies at the local mosque. For Muhammad, he acknowledges his old age and impending death; his wife had only passed away a few months ago at the age of 53. Yet, he  holds onto the future his children will build for themselves, a future that he hopes will be different than their current state.

For younger parents, however, a loss of hope for the future is still as pervasive in their minds. As Badour, a 24-year-old Iraqi mother whose husband was killed in a suicide bomb in Baghad, shared with the Immerse team, “I have no hopes here in Jordan. My major hope, that my family is going to leave Jordan because my future – stick with them future.” She sits next her toddler son Khalid as he burrows himself into the couch between his mom and the cushions. She pauses occasionally during the interview to whisper in his ear or kiss his head, and as she talks about Khalid, she comments, “I prefer a good future for him because I lost my future.” Badour suffers from depression, and attributes her emotional health to being forced to flee from Iraq. Nevertheless, she still holds onto Khalid’s future. Her young son brings her assurance despite the uncertain circumstances of her life.

For refugee parents like Badour, their children pull them out of the emotional and mental turmoil of being a refugee. The wait to return to Iraq or Syria, the inability to work, the discrimination they receive for being a refugee, all of these put an emotional toll on refugees.  To those who have put their children in school, education brings consistency to their lives. For Hanan, her schedule revolves around her children’s school schedule; she finds purpose in the daily task of providing for them. Even for Muhammad, whose sons cannot afford to go to college in Jordan, their futures bring promise to Muhammad’s life; he can no longer find happiness in his present state, but his children’s futures refresh him. These refugee families may never return to Syria or Iraq, but their stories will continue through their children. Hope is what allows these parents to survive, to wake up everyday to better the opportunity for their children.