March 8th is International Women’s Day and a day on which we celebrate all women throughout the world. March is also the month in which the war in Syria started 10 years ago. To learn more about being a female refugee, we provide a platform to be heard to Huda Tarsha, a 62 year old Syrian woman. Before leaving the war in Syria, she worked at the Damascus municipality in finances for five years. Now, living in the Netherlands, she develops her language skills learning Dutch and seeking to build a new life.
1- As an asylum seeker and then status holder, you encountered difficulties. Would you like to tell us one of these difficulties and how were you able to overcome them?
The most important challenges were the language, customs, traditions, and social life being different from what I knew in Syria. Thanks to the people I met in refugee camps like the COA and other officials, I was able to overcome some of these challenges and, after I got a house, I worked voluntarily in the municipality’s center in the kitchen and got to know the kitchen officials that helped me feel closer to the Dutch community. School, friends and Dutch neighbors also helped me.
2 – What is it like to be a Syrian woman in western culture?
Syrian women have a wide culture in all aspects. In Syria we had work, we taught in universities, and could become specialized in all kinds of specialization. We were able to prove our worth in life while getting familiar with the Western culture just as you can get familiar to the Arab culture, but sometimes women can get under the weight of ignorance when they have no education and are accepted only as a wife and mother. When Syrian women come to the Netherlands, they face a different life from their reality, which brings them to crossroads. They have to adapt to the new reality in terms of customs, traditions and language – all different to their reality, but I am sure with determination and perseverance, we can prove to ourselves that we are capable. The evidence is that we can study and succeed in the Netherlands. We could work also and this is a victory for us.
3 – The syrian war has been going on for 10 years, did you expect the war to last this long? What do you miss most about Syria?
About the war, we thought it would last for days or weeks , but its 10-year continuation made it a huge tragedy for the Syrians.
When I left Syria, I prayed to God that peace would return to our country. When I left, I lost my dreams, memories and everything beautiful that I lived. My hope is to return to visit, and this nightmare to end. Syria is beautiful, its people are good, they do not deserve all of this.
4- What are the new challenges you faced during the pandemic time?
The biggest challenge in the pandemic time is isolation and the lack of contact with people to improve my dutch language. Now that I have to stay home and take precautions not to get sick, I have to practice the language by watching television.
5 – How did Breath of Hope’s activities help you now?
I got to know Road of Hope through a dinner activity and had contact with other women and met with them on a number of occasions and activities and with a number of friends. Road of Hope had an active role in the challenges during Pandemic. So through these meetings (Breath of Hope) and online lessons we broke the barriers of the fear of disease and we learned how to manage the fear.
6 – What positive message do you have to present to people like you who are starting their lives in a new country and facing many fears and doubts?
The message is to never give up. It is necessary to be strong and to deal with all things in a positive way.
7 – What changes do you think are still necessary in society, in order to help the refugees in a better way and allow them to play a more active role?
Changes are necessary so that the issue of refugee integration becomes more visible and that people be opened to integrate refugees into the labor market. More initiatives as cultural seminars and entertainment could help.
6 – What are your hopes and dreams for your life post-pandemic?
I hope to be more active in society, to achieve what I aspire to do in the field of cooking, and to get through everything with the help I have.