A group of devoted, super excited, flamboyant young Syrian refugee girls in Ramtha-Jordan hit the streets today to send as message. They had a clear target, playing along with people on the streets, using home made cupcakes as vehicles to send a message changing attitudes in Jordan towards Syrian female refugees.
The group formed of 18 girls between the age of 13 and 19, 4 of the IRC team members and myself spent 2 weeks of social therapy in Ramtha-Jordan, the home of more than 60000 Syrian refugees now. We laughed together, played like kids, listened carefully to each other stories, shared the grief, supported each other and most importantly created something new out of what exists.
Usually in this kind of sessions and while sharing stories, the group points out some of their life difficulties and create practical positive ways to deal with them.
Being a female teenager is tough. Add being a Syrian refugee to the mix, and it’s not exactly the most pleasant way to spend the most sensitive years of your life. Not only have the girls expressed regular teenage frustrations, but they also feel they’ve lost the things they are familiar with that would have made those frustrations easier to deal with: their friends, their homes, their rooms, their belongings. In addition, being in a foreign country has had its challenges. The majority of Jordanians have really embraced the new refugees into their communities, but some have had a harder time adjusting to the new changes. Some of the Syrian girls said they experienced bullying in school, being called “strangers” and having a hard time fitting in with the other Jordanian girls as the stigma of being a refugee looms large. This, they said, hurt their self esteem and sometimes made them feel insecure.
Their own therapy started by a small idea. Wanting to send a clear message to the people they fear the most- the Jordanians. It was an amazing process where these “mostly” shy girls let their imagination drive the conversation. Each one added one more idea to the previous one, and in no time we had a project created and ready to execute. Only then, they all went silent for a moment, looked at each other amazed by the final product they came up with and went: “Oh no, how did we even come up with that? We can’t walk on the streets and distribute cupcakes, what would people say?” “What if people we know see us?”
“We cannot do it it’s impossible! “
But still there was something deep down motivating them. They formed 2 committees, organised the day, went to the supermarket, bought what is needed prepared the kitchen for a long day of baking cakes and started thinking about the messages they want to send.
That day was one of the most amusing, fun days we spent together. The centre was vibrating, loud Arabic music playing, some girls baking, others brainstorming, typing, cutting pieces of papers, gluing, decorating the cakes, laughing and dancing from time to time.
10 min before hitting the streets, half of the group decided that they can’t do it, they were too scared to face the world outside. Wasn’t long before we all convinced them and off we went.
Our first stop was at the butcher’s shop next to the community centre, one of the main characters that the girls despise and fear every time they pass by him. He thought the initiative was amazing, he said “I am going to take this cupcake to my wife, we always wondered what you girls do in this centre everyday”.
The excitement of the girls was growing with each step they took far from the centre. They made 160 cupcakes with 15 different messages among which: “ I am like your mother, daughter and sister. Treat me like you want other people to treat them”. “Border is an imaginary line why use it with us?” “ All I am worried about now is how we will pay rent and eat, please don’t make it harder on me” “thank you for welcoming us” etc. They reached more than 160 people. One of the girls who initially didn’t want to go on the streets stopped at one point took more cupcakes and said: “ this is super exciting, I think I can easily do it. Give me more cakes to share with people”.
For the girls, this project gave them the opportunity to go beyond themselves, to support each other, boost their self-esteem and play with people that they never imagined playing with. They did what was impossible.
On their way back the butcher made sure to greet them and they greeted him back.
They simply remade their world by baking some cakes.