OTTAWA (CCN) — Syrians need help to rebuild their lives, says a Syrian refugee who manages centres funded by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.
“Most are talking about supporting refugees, how we support refugees and neighbouring countries,” said Rand Sukhaita, who manages the Darna Centres in Syria funded by the Canadian bishops’ overseas development agency. “That issue is very important; we should give solutions and support.”
“Also there are people who choose to stay in Syria, we should also support them,” said Sukhaita in a Skype interview March 24 after she had returned to Turkey from a trip to Canada that included visits with federal government representatives in Ottawa.
Supporting them includes giving them tools, knowledge and help building resilience, she added. “After all, they are the ones who stay and who build.”
Rebuilding in Syria remains “very dangerous,” but people need hospitals, education, safe spaces and a future, she said.
The Darna Centres help its members, primarily women, to learn basic job skills to improve their living conditions.
“Darna means ‘our home’ in Arabic,” Sukhaita said.
When meeting with Canadian government officials, she said she hoped to convey some “small, positive stories” of how the Darna Centres have helped women who have been forced by the civil war to take on new roles that challenge traditional ones. Most of them have now become the breadwinners in their families, she said.
These changes have affected all communities that are fighting not only for their rights with the government, but against ISIL extremists. “I wanted to highlight how Syrians still survive, what they want and why they are still in Syria.”
“Most of the people know there is war in Syria and few of them know it was a revolution and why it all started,” she said. The war between the regime, rebel groups and ISIS has led to confusion on the ground. “No one knows what is daily happening,” she said. No one knows how women and youth face all the traumatic circumstances.
Sukhaita recommended Canada support Syrian civil society and let civil society groups take the lead in developing new leaders. “It’s very important to invest in Syrians, to build their capacities and give them tools to build their country again.”
Those inside Syria do not need immediate humanitarian relief as much as previously, she said. “It’s not just relief that can solve or respond to needs. We should also support and invest in development projects.”
The Darna Centres help people to “have an income” and give children, youth and women psychosocial support, she said. “All of us, the Syrians, are traumatized because of what’s happening — displacement, violence. Just following the news every day is traumatic.”
According to Development and Peace, the Darna Centres aim to “promote women’s economic autonomy; to lay the foundation for an egalitarian society; and break the cycle of poverty.”
Development and Peace - Caritas Canada began supporting the vocational training centres in Maarat-Al-Numan (Idlib) and the city of Aleppo in 2015. The centres offer women a monthly stipend and child care so they can attend classes. They also have social workers on staff who can help with psychosocial support and services.
For the year beginning June 1, 2016, and ending May 31, 2017, the Darna Centres expect to have given 280 women access to an 11-week sewing course; 265 women English language training; 300 women a computer course; and 80 women courses in reading and writing.
Development and Peace estimates 80 per cent of those who have taken the sewing course will be able to find a job using those new skills.
Sukhaita manages the Darna Centres from Turkey, where she fled in 2013, not long after giving birth to her daughter in December 2012. She and her mother and her baby daughter joined her husband who had already gone to Turkey. The family has been there for almost four years. “We didn’t know what would happen,” she said. “After one year, I started to realize I would stay in Turkey, and I wanted to engage with the refugees from Syria so I started working with Syrian Medical Society.” She worked with the society for one year as they supported field hospitals inside Syria, and then began working with the Darna Centres where she was eventually made manager.
Three million Syrians live in Turkey where they do not have official UNHCR refugee status, but have been treated reasonably well by the government. Sukhaita hopes eventually to return to Syria.