March 29, 2022
Alaa and Sherein are two women who live in Za’atari Refugee Camp, the largest camp for Syrian refugees in the world. Both women came from a city called Da’ara in southern Syria, and both arrived in Za’atari about ten years ago. What began as a desperate flight from Da’ara, which they thought would be temporary, turned out to be the end of their lives as they knew it.

Yet despite the fear, frustrations, and overwhelming sadness, they’ve held on to hope. Today, Alaa and Sherein both volunteer with Questscope, which has helped them to discover new passions and pathways. These women haven’t given up—they work tirelessly for their families, for themselves, and for their future.

Read below for an interview with these two remarkable women.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves?

Sherein: I’m 31 years old, married, and I have two boys and one girl. I arrived at the camp in February 2013. I like to laugh and crack jokes! I like a happy atmosphere. I don’t like the sad and bleak way of thinking or a sad atmosphere in general. I currently live at the camp with my family.

Alaa: I’m 23 years old. I arrived at Za’atari on November 11th, 2012. I’m currently a volunteer with Questscope at the Youth Center. My hobbies include writing and fashion design. I believe that change begins with myself, and only then can I spread the positive change to people around me. I live with my family in the camp: I have seven sisters and two brothers, in addition to my father and mother.


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Can you tell us what life was like when you first arrived in Za’atari?

Sherein: When we came to the camp, we had to live in tents, not in caravans. The tents were very close to each other. We had to think about basic life needs—like water, food, and shelter. So that’s really all we could think about. There was a feeling of insecurity, and women were encouraged to stay at home, to not get involved with people that we didn’t know.

Before we arrived, we had heard terrifying stories about Za’atari, about how it’s not safe. So we already had an image in our minds about what it was like. That’s what kept us from trying to interact with other people, on top of the constraints and rules that were already enforced on women prior to coming to Jordan.


How did life evolve once you were living in Za’atari?

Sherein: Once we were in Za’atari, living the same way we were in Syria simply was not possible for me. I was living with my in-laws, and my husband was in Syria. I needed to support three children. Breaking the norm was something that I had to do. I heard about different opportunities and trainings that I could participate in. I came to Questscope and took the communications training. I was trying to support my family, and for that, I didn’t face much resistance. I love sports, so when I joined Questscope I became the soccer coach for the women’s football [soccer] league. Now I’m a facilitator with the Field Guide for Barefoot Psychology.

Alaa: It was a different story for me. I came out of a failed marriage at 17, which caused very serious issues and problems for me in the camp. I had to stay home, and I lost the will to go out and interact with other people. My biggest supporters were my family. My family kept urging me to go out and engage with other people, despite the concerns from the community. They enrolled me in different trainings and activities around the camp, just to help me come out and talk with people and interact with people.

During that time I also heard about Questscope and participated in fashion design classes at the Youth Center. Because I loved that, I stayed with Questscope for quite some time. The trust and meaningful relationships between the participants and volunteers made Questscope different. After that I had to quit for a while, because I decided to go back to my studies. During the divorce period I had to drop out of school. So I felt the need to go back to finish my education. Luckily, I went back and got my high school diploma, then a college degree, majoring in hospital administration. I worked in the camp for almost one year in one of the small hospitals here. Then I returned to work with Questscope. I became a mentor, and after a while I became a case manager. I’m currently working with the Me/We program in the camp.


What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

Sherein: I want a husband! [laughs] My ambition is to continue my studies, because I had to drop out of school. So now I wish to continue. And I have a message for all women—you should never give up, despite your circumstances. Keep your spirits high because there is hope in life.

Alaa: With my work at Questscope, I always want to keep giving something special, to keep giving more. I want to work more on myself and learn more. And I want to keep helping others. I would love to travel more and learn more about fashion design. Hopefully I’d have my own shop and be a fashion designer, or a tailor and teach other women the craft.


Sherein, you have a daughter. What are your hopes and aspirations for her?

Sherein: I wish for my daughter a happy and safe life. I don’t want her to stay a refugee in the camp. And I want her to have a strong personality!

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