HEROINES OF THEIR OWN STORY

On a sunny, crisp, Sunday morning in February, the Rural Refugee Network held their third annual fundraising ‘Walk for Hope’, starting with a gentle climb to the South Downs Way from Elsted and returning through Treyford to the Village Hall.  This year, a number of Syrian refugee families, and one newly relocated Sudanese family, all rehoused and aided by RRN, took part.  Together with volunteers and supporters of RRN they trekked through the beautiful West Sussex countryside – a far cry from the war torn destruction of the cities they once called home.

Following the walk, over refreshments in Elsted Village Hall, two young Syrian refugees from among the first resettled here with the aid of RRN, spoke with experience beyond their years of the journey that brought them to our shores.

Five years ago in 2013, Rahaf, now aged 19, was leading a normal life, with no thought that she would ever leave Syria, but when her home town was razed to the ground in the course of just one day, her family were forced to move to Jordan, where they remained for three years.  Assessed under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme (VPRS), the family arrived at Gatwick with one bag each and only memories of their home before the war.  Met by volunteers from the British Red Cross to start their new life in the UK, even tired from traveling, Rahaf was fascinated by the lush green beautiful landscape on the drive to Liss and the house with the small garden that was to be their new home and the start of a safe and peaceful life.

Once settled Rahaf was able to turn her attention to the importance of education.  Seventeen years old by this time, she wished to complete her last year of school and move on to University, but with no proof of her qualifications she was required to retake them.  A further three years ahead of her before she could attend University in the UK, whereas her friends in Jordan would be heading to University this year, was a setback which took some time to come to terms with.    However, Rahaf has already completed these GCSE’s and is now studying for her A Levels in Biology, Chemistry and Maths.  Understandably still struggling somewhat with English, its use of terms and phrases so foreign to her ear, she is determined to gain 3 A’s in order to study medicine.  Becoming a doctor was a childhood dream for Rahaf, now a young adult, her experience of war has become the driving force to achieving this goal; to one day be able to return to Syria, to Jordan and other warzones, with the knowledge and expertise that will help ease the pain war inflicts.  This courageous young lady, who will never give up her dream of being a doctor and returning to her own country, left those listening to her in tears and full of admiration.

At the start of the Syrian war in 2011, Larisa, now aged 18, and her family would hear bombs drop and explode so close to their home they had no choice but to flee, leaving friends, extended family and possessions behind.  With just the clothes on their back and a few possessions they were able to carry in backpacks, Larisa and her immediate family fled to Lebanon.  Homeless and frightened on an uncertain journey the family were eventually taken to a refugee camp.   Visibly upset by her memories, Larisa recalled wondering if she would be safe there. Would she be able to finish her studies?  She was a good student at home, learning English, but here there was no school, no welcome, no food and no healthcare.  This was life in the camp for the next five years.

Once again under the VPRS, a refugee family found their lives changed forever.  They received a call to say that a home had been found and they would be moving to the UK.  Larisa expressed her family’s gratitude to the RRN and the many people involved in providing their new life, where she is able to continue her much valued education.  Yet she will never forget those left they behind in the camp.  Every time she eats she wonders if they are eating too, if they have enough food, and if they are safe.  One day Larisa will also return to her homeland of Syria, where she wants to open an Orphanage.  ‘I will do this. This is my future,’ she says with determination, before asking for a moments silence for all of those who have died and continue to die in Syria.

Upon hearing the girls speak first-hand, these victims of war but heroines of their own story, volunteers at RRN feel compelled to continue their work.  The need for more homes is paramount to the cause, without them the charity is unable to offer solace and peace to families in great need.   The RRN relies on the generosity of private landlords wishing to offer a safe haven to a refugee family.   If you own a suitable property, this could be one you are converting or have inherited, which you might wish to rent to a refugee family, please contact the RRN for more information, at hello@ruralrefugeenetwork.org or visit our website at www.ruralrefugeenetwork.org

Please give some thought to helping us help those in desperate need.