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We can always invest in negative circumstances and turn them to positivity

Photo: Amal Al-Hayat

This blog by a 19-year-old married Syrian refugee girl living in Al-Mafraq, Jordan, is part of a series of blogs written by adolescents involved in the Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE) participatory research groups in the Middle East. Young people aged 15-19 from diverse nationalities and geographic backgrounds have been engaging in participatory research activities, including participatory photography, peer-to-peer research and diary writing since early 2019.

To mark the anniversary of The Global Compact on Refugees, this blog focuses on adolescent refugee experiences of child marriage and shares their perspectives and priorities to call for more investment in programming to support married girls.

Amal Al-Hayat’s* story as told to Sally Youssef

Amal is a 19-year-old Syrian girl from Aleppo, Syria, who got married out of love to her cousin when she was 16 and has two young sons. She lives with her in-laws in Al-Mafraq Al-Janoubi, Jordan. Amal and her family were internally displaced due to the war in Syria before seeking refuge in Jordan. She was 12 years old when her family fled to Jordan. Due to her family’s fears for her safety in a foreign country, Amal could not continue her education. She only studied until grade 4 because when the war erupted it led to school closures in her hometown. Since arriving in Jordan, Amal initially spent her time helping her natal family with the housework and taking care of her two brothers’ needs, and after marriage her life has centred around taking care of her children and household after marriage.

Life has not been easy on us as refugees. Since the war started in Syria, we have been living a life of struggle, enduring displacement and poverty. My family and I were displaced to different areas inside Syria because my hometown, Aleppo, was no longer secure for us. We kept fleeing from one place to another until we fled to Jordan and stayed there. I was 12-years-old at the time, and like millions of Syrians, I became a refugee.

When we arrived in Jordan, we had relatives living in Al Mafraq who helped us move to a house. We had some savings that we used for rent and we lived off the food vouchers that we received as refugees. Life was challenging. We struggled to adapt to our new life in Jordan and faced many financial difficulties. Within two years, our savings had been depleted and we couldn’t afford rent. We had to move out of our house and live in a makeshift tent. For years, we had to move our tent from one spot to another because the landowners would ask us to leave. These were the hardest times for us. But this changed when my two brothers started working and helping my father. My family was then able again to rent a house. But I did not live in their new house for long.

Once we moved to the new house, I became engaged and three months later, I got married. I was 16 years old. I had been in love with my cousin since I was a young girl. We had to get married to avoid community gossip and because I was at a marriageable age. It was time for me to have my own family. After marriage, I moved in with my in-laws and although I knew them because my mother-in-law is my aunt, married life was strange for me and I had to adapt to living with a new family. One month later, I found out I was pregnant. It was then then that I started facing difficulties.

My first pregnancy was very hard because I was young and not prepared for it. I did not understand what pregnancy was nor what I would experience during pregnancy. My psychological wellbeing deteriorated badly, and I would avoid people and not leave the house. I became very isolated. However, my husband and family were always there to support me. When my first son was born, my mother-in-law helped me so much.

I was an extremely anxious mother at first. I used to worry about my son’s health and safety. My second child was born at the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic. He had an infection in his lungs after he was born, and we needed to hospitalize him for 15 days in intensive care. I was isolated in a room with him and not allowed to interact with people at the hospital. My anxiety returned and it hit hard. I was not only terrified for my two sons’ health, but I was also scared about the virus because I did not know anything about it. I thought at that time that anything could infect us. The isolation at the hospital made me feel so lonely and my phone was my only gateway to the world outside the hospital.

Covid-19 has made everything hard on us. Jordan went into complete lockdown and imposed a curfew. My husband is the only breadwinner in our family and he works as a wage-earner in construction. He could not work during the lockdown and our financial situation deteriorated rapidly. We only had the food vouchers to live off, which was not enough to cover our rent and needs. We had to borrow from the grocery shop next to our home and borrow money from people we know to get our essential needs. Our financial situation returned to normalcy after the lockdown, but our social life had changed.

My burdens increased at home with two children, the housework and cooking. Before the pandemic, I used to visit my friends and neighbours in the afternoons but that was not possible during the lockdown. I was not even able to visit my family. The isolation at home affected all of us psychologically. But I never gave in to despair. I invested in the time that we all spent together at home as a family. The lockdown allowed us to have meals and to spend time together at home.

After the country opened, we stopped gathering as a family and everyone went back to work but at least we still have the memories of the times we spent together. I still avoid visiting family and friends  to protect myself and my family from the virus, and because I have more responsibilities at home now. Since the pandemic, I spend most of my time at home with my children and family. But my fear of the virus is not based on lack of knowledge anymore, it is the lack of people’s adherence to protection measures that makes me afraid.

My experience as refugee and as a mother has been burdensome, however I still consider myself lucky as I have my family’s support. Nonetheless, the economic challenges that we have been facing are a constant struggle for me and for my family. We are a large household that relies on my husband’s daily wage earnings, leaving us frequently unable to meet our basic needs, especially for the children. When we face additional challenges, such as the pandemic and the lockdown, we are left without sufficient income and support. I have my family’s support, but many married girls in a similar situation might be left to struggle alone. Refugees need more assistance especially young mothers like me. I was lucky to have my husband’s and mother-in-law’s support but many others lack this but are in critical need of support to overcome the challenges of early pregnancy and motherhood.

* Name is a pseudonym chosen by the blog author