Danica Simonet volunteered with GSBTB Open Art Shelter for Women and Children throughout summer 2016. There she interviewed some women from Syria for Brother’s Keeper International, where this post was first published.
Here is the voice of Mona.
The word refugee for me is really abusive. I don’t like it. Why? Because it reminds me of what I lost.
The photo above is of Mona’s hands. They will carry you through her story of loss and new beginnings.
Loss: Once the revolution started, everything changed. I lost my flat, my husband quit his job, so we lost all sources of income and I was unable to take care of my relatives.
Losing everything in front of your eyes like that, you wish every day that you are not alive, that you had died before this moment — before all the suffering I have had to go through.
Leaving: I had to leave everything behind, including my home and relatives. There were no words to describe how much I missed my family, even to this day I have not found the words.
Maybe I will see them one day, or maybe not. That really kills me.
The Journey: The boat ride from Turkey to Greece was a terrifying experience. It was windy and there were 40 children and 33 adults within a 6 meter boat that is meant for 25 people. My husband was the captain, even though he had no experience navigating a boat. I consider this one of the hardest moments in my whole life because I did not know if I was going to live or die. I could only see my children’s heads in the middle of the boat. I was praying to God.
I told God: “God, if you are going to let us die, let us all die together, or if you will let us survive, let us all survive together. I do not want to feel the pain of losing one of them”.
You do not know your destiny when you are at sea. You do not know if your children are cold. You cannot feel them. You cannot reach them. Finally, the coast guards in Greece saved us. When I found my kids, they were freezing due to the weather conditions. The coast guards gave us clothes, food, a place to sleep, and directed us towards towards Macedonia. We traveled through Hungary and Austria, and finally arrived in Germany.
Tempelhof Airport. Photos by Danica Simonet.
Life in Germany: Now my life here, in Germany, is simple. In the morning, I wake up my children, dress them, wait to be given breakfast, and make sure my children get to school on time. If I have an appointment with the washing machine, I do my laundry. During the afternoon, I wait to be given dinner and wait for my children to come home from school. My life is just about eating, sleeping, and taking care of my children.
Here in the camp, my children are unfortunately picking up the bad manners of other children. As a mother, this is a big problem for me. The only solution is for my husband and me to raise our children independently from the refugee camp, emphasizing good manners, morals, and the Arabic and German language. We want to create a healthy, normal living environment for our children…that is all we are searching for.
While I am living in Germany, I am keeping my Arabian culture by continuing my Arabian traditions such as: wearing my hijab, continuing my Islamic faith, and exhibiting my culture’s acceptance of others. Preserving my Arabian culture is part of honouring my family back in Syria.
Despite my desire to maintain my Arabian roots, I am open to learn about German traditions such as: clothing, religious practices, and way of life.
If you could say one thing to the people of Europe and the United States, what would it be?
I wish they would help us by taking our problems seriously. They can help us by providing housing and giving us opportunities to learn German. We would also like to be given opportunities to work to help the societies we are now living in.
Believe me, we are just looking and seeking for a better life; that is why we came here.
We want the world to recognize our common humanity.
We hope to live in a world where we can live dignified lives. I believe that Europe and the United States have the power to help us get back our human dignity, so we can start living the lives we hope and deserve to live.
My last wish is that the government of these countries would try to help the situation in Syria. I don’t know how, but I know they can find a way to promote peace in my homeland.
Thank you, as always, for your support.
Danica Simonet is a college student from the US who is volunteering this summer with Brother’s Keeper International. She is passionate about getting to know refugees and sharing their stories. She hopes others will join her in doing the same.
Brother’s Keeper International is a storytelling initiative based in Berlin, highlighting firsthand accounts of refugees, volunteers, and other inspiring humans. We blog most frequently at Medium, where we publish in-depth photo essays. We also post volunteer opportunities (or create our own!) to give ideas for practical ways to get involved in your own community.