In the words of Madina Mousa: “I could not stay idle in the face of hardship”

Date: Thursday, August 15, 2019

Madina Mousa, Syrian refugee and Protection Supervisor at the Women’s Empowerment Organization (WEO) in Iraq. Photo: UN Women/ Said Elmobasher
Madina Mousa, Syrian refugee and Protection Supervisor at the Women’s Empowerment Organization (WEO) in Iraq. Photo: UN Women/ Said Elmobasher

Madina Mousa fled the war in Syria with her family in 2013, and now lives in Kawergosk Refugee Camp in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. She started volunteering to help other refugees and now works as a Protection Supervisor at the Women’s Empowerment Organization (WEO), local partner organization of UN Women implementing the regional programme, “Strengthening the Resilience of Syrian Women and Girls and Host Communities in Iraq, Jordan and Turkey”, funded by the European Union under the EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis (the EU MADAD Fund).

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I had just finished my final exams at the Faculty of History when the war reached our city in northern Syria, destroying our dreams and plans for the future. My family and I had to flee, leaving everything behind.

We crossed the border into Iraq to seek safety in the Baserma Refugee Camp, along with thousands of other refugees. The situation in the camp when we first arrived was terrible. The misery of displacement was daunting. I could not stay idle in the face of hardship, I wanted to help my family and those around me. I had to do something.

I started looking for volunteer work with local and international organizations working with refugees. Having left behind our documents, I had no proof of my education level, which made my quest for work very difficult. Finally, the Women’s Empowerment Organization accepted me as a volunteer on the basis of a student ID card that I had brought with me.

I started volunteering, there were 180 of us, both men and women. We underwent training on different issues that help to empower women, including psychological and legal support, as well as livelihood and work opportunities. After two months as a volunteer, I was selected along with 19 other women and men to work as staff members.

I became a social researcher and and talked to women refugees in the Kawergosk Camp regularly. Listening to the challenges they face on a daily basis increased my determination to help them overcome the obstacles and improve their lives. What I found out from the refugee women guided our operations so that we could respond to their most urgent needs.

Three months later, I became a women’s empowerment lecturer, talking to the camp’s residents about how women can empower themselves to cope better with displacement through training and work opportunities, as well as psychological and legal aid. Then, I became a trainer of trainers on women’s empowerment and gender-based violence in the Baserma and Kawergosk Refugee Camps in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. I ran several projects, ranging from sewing courses to advocacy against gender-based violence.

Today I am a Protection Supervisor, focusing on gender-based violence, early marriage and child protection. My team and I are always present in the camps, and in regular communication with the residents and camp managers. One of the major protection issues facing girls in the camp is early marriage. , For economic and security reasons, many families choose to marry off their daughter at a young age. Our specialists work hard to inform the camps’ residents of the negative medical, legal and psychological impact of early marriages on girls and their families. 

Because we want our work to be driven by the needs of the refugees and displaced, we have created a suggestion box. For example, based on suggestions we received, we launched a campaign to combat violence against women, bringing men and women together. We have changed the way we deliver our training to better suit context and what people need.

We offer training courses on the basis of what the women themselves have expressed they need. One Syrian woman told me that she had always dreamt of becoming a tailor. We helped her get training and buy a sewing machine and she is now a tailor.

Being able to access training and jobs helps refugee women deal with many of the challenges they face and to improve their status in their families and community as a whole. Now some refugee men come to us to ask for more courses like for their female relatives. To help more women follow our training and livelihoods programmes, we have created a children’s day care center run by our staff.

So far, through the Madad programme, our centre has helped over 1,100 women with physiological and legal support as well as training and work opportunities. The skills that women learn through our programmes are life skills that not only empower them to cope with the hardships of displacement, but also help them rebuild their lives and they can contribute towards their country when they eventually return.”