The first sound Fatima heard was a high-pitched whine directly above the schoolhouse where she worked as a teacher. She paused from her lesson and looked around at her students as they tried to identify the strange noise. It seemed to be growing louder. And then the bomb hit.
“A helicopter was dropping bombs on the school,” Fatima recalled. “Everyone just ran away.”
For two years, Fatima, her husband, and their young son, Ibrahim, endured the hardships of war. When it was no longer safe to go to school, Fatima stayed home. When it was no longer safe to stay home, the family gathered a few belongings and fled for the border of Lebanon.
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Although there was peace in Lebanon, life was hard for the little family. They were thrilled to welcome a baby girl to their home, but the blessing of a newborn daughter didn’t dispel the realities of poverty in a foreign country. Fatima needed a job to support her husband’s meager income as a handyman. Work opportunities seemed out of reach, but Fatima prayed.
One day, a neighbor came to her door with an idea. “You tell us you were a teacher in Syria,” the neighbor said. “Come register your name at the ADRA Learning Center to see if they need help.”
Fatima had never heard of ADRA, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, but she went to the Learning Center to see whether they could give her a job.
Later that day, the community mobilizer called Fatima. “We don’t need a teacher,” she said, “but we do need another community mobilizer—someone to help connect the refugee children with education and support. Would you be willing to work with us as a volunteer?”
Fatima needed money, but she also wanted to feel useful, serve others, and engage with her refugee community. She accepted the volunteer position, and in time, she became a paid ADRA employee.
“When we visit families, the people open their hearts and their minds because they know we’re Syrians just like them,” she said. “We’re all in the same situation.”
Nagi Khalil, the country director for ADRA Lebanon, knows the value of Syrians helping Syrians. “After years of war and hardship, the refugee population is not always open-minded to those who come knocking on their doors,” he explained. “They’re more receptive to the message of education when it comes from a fellow Syrian.”
Spreading that message of education is exactly what the ADRA Learning Center is about. In a country where refugees make up a quarter of the population, public schools can be overcrowded and unwelcoming to Syrian children. The French curriculum is new and challenging, the teacher-to-student ratio is unfavorable to individualized learning, and there are few tutors outside of class. The ADRA Learning Center provides language learning support, small class sizes, and one-on-one tutoring.
But many refugee families are resistant to the idea of sending their child away from home, or they think the child should be working to provide for the family instead. This is where Fatima shines. Her work is to visit the households and explain the value of the Learning Center to families in a language they can understand.
Though the need is great and the refugee population is large, Fatima continues to rise early, kiss her family goodbye, and take a taxi to the narrow, four-story ADRA building. She still greets the children on their way to the Learning Center, and she still makes her rounds to the refugee households in the neighborhood.
“I feel very good about my work with ADRA as a community mobilizer,” she said. “When I visit families and see children, they feel like my children. I want to do everything I can for them. I feel like I’m a messenger from the center to these families.”
The more Fatima invests in her work, the more she wants to invest. She sees the difference in her community—more refugee kids in school and more families valuing education—but she sees a difference in herself, too.
“I’ve made good friends, and I spend my time doing useful things instead of just staying home,” she said with a smile. “When I go to work, I feel happy.”
The Adventist Development and Relief Agency is the global humanitarian organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Through an international network, ADRA delivers relief and development assistance to individuals in more than 130 countries—regardless of their ethnicity, political affiliation, or religious association.
By partnering with communities, organizations, and governments, ADRA can improve the quality of life of millions through nine impact areas: social justice; disaster response; economic growth; children’s needs; gender equity; community health; water, sanitation, and hygiene issues; hunger and nutrition; and livelihoods and agriculture.
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