Young Syrian girls actively shaping their own paths

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By Razan Rashidi

Hama, Syria – “It was scary and I was terrified, so were my sisters. In addition to all displacement challenges, we had to carry Alaa, the youngest among us who lives with disabilities,” said 15-year-old Naseem.

Nassem and her family had to flee when violence escalated in their village north of Hama governorate two years ago. “The circumstances forced us to leave our home heading toward the city,” her father said

“Back home it became very challenging to survive. Once we spent three months without telecommunication or electricity. There was no bread so we started backing at home,” Naseem added.

Since the start of the crisis in Syria, local communities have been hosting internally displaced people, offering basic assistance of all types.

“For nine days we lived in a collective shelter. Ninety people in one ballroom. It was not easy,” Naseem explains.

“For adolescents in particular who are entering their formative years, violence and suffering have not only scarred their past; they are shaping their future” said Hanaa Singer, UNICEF Representative in Syria. Adolescents constitute a quarter of Syria’s population — around 5 million in all.

As the crisis has worsened, adolescents in Syria are missing out on and other opportunities to develop and learn. Many – especially girls – are forced to stay indoors for their safety. Others have to work and may engage in precarious work, to help provide income for the family. Last year, Nassem joined UNICEF supported vocational training classes in Hama offered by a local NGO; Saweed.

“I wanted to learn a skill so I can be responsible,” she said. “I do realize our situation at home is a bit difficult and different from other displaced families as we have a member with disabilities. That’s why I decided to join the hairdressing classes. It was like a dream come true”

Nassem’s trainers said she excelled in her classes. “Nassem did not only stick to course materials, she started her own research online and brought new hair styles back to the class,” said her teacher.

Her parents were very supportive and proud of her creativity. They felt the difference on the entire family. Using her sisters as models, Nassem used to practice the skills she leant in class.

“As soon as I learnt how to give a haircut. I came to Alaa and gave her a nice one,” she told us touching the hair of her sister as the younger lies in bed.

“I only feel better when I see her sisters getting stronger in life as I trust Alaa will be in good hands,” the mothed commented. “Nassem will give her the care she deserves.”

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. That’s a Syrian saying,” the mother added

15-year-old Naseem