This blog by a 19-years-old Palestinian girl living in Ein el-Hilweh Palestinian camp, south of Lebanon is part of a series of blogs written by adolescents involved in the Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE) participatory research groups in the MENA region. The GAGE blog series reflects the 2020 International Day of the Girl theme “My voice, our equal future”, focusing on amplifying girls’ voices and standing up for their rights.
Jouri Ismail’s* story as told to Sally Youssef
Jouri is a 19-year-old Palestinian girl living in Ein el-Hilweh camp, south of Lebanon. Jouri finished Grade 10 in school and started studying Business and Accounting in a vocational school last year.
When she was 16-years-old, Jouri was forced into a marriage engagement. Jouri’s grandmother, mother and older sister married at a young age as well. Her family wanted her to marry because they thought that education would not benefit her, as women are not allowed to work in her community. Jouri’s ex-fiancé forced her to drop out of school. Jouri fought for her education, broke her engagement, and went back to school after two years of interruption.
During the covid-19 pandemic, although her family has been struggling with loss of income and poverty, Jouri has been volunteering in her community to support households even more vulnerable than hers.
My life has always been challenging. From my parents forcing me into engagement at a young age and then out of school, to the men in my life controlling every breath I take. But I overcame all these challenges and got on with my life. I went back to my studies and thought that the most difficult times had passed. Little did I expect that hunger would be more devastating than everything I have ever been through.
No one expected the economic crisis, which has been the greatest suffering I have ever experienced. The coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis came at the same time and took the little we had. My father and brother lost their jobs, and we were left without an income or assistance.
For months, we were not able to get food and no one was there to help us. Hunger left a great impact on me psychologically. I became someone else. Loneliness and isolation became my own world. My psychological wellbeing deteriorated and I lost my self-confidence. I resorted to solitude and started running away from my family. I wanted to avoid our family problems that had been compounded by financial struggles.
Recently, my father started working but we can still barely afford food. Within this loneliness, I was drowning in my grief. Until a day came when I faced myself and my despair. I thought about everyone else too. I am not alone in this situation and my family is not the only one suffering from hunger. I thought of those who might be in much worse situations. I knew then that I did not have a choice to be broken, and that I cannot allow this situation to break me and my will to live!
I decided to break out of my loneliness and not allow myself to be defeated by hunger. There are many people who need me and need the strength of young people to help them. I decided to join a fundraising campaign with a local association to provide food to struggling families. Every day, I’m out on the streets collecting donations and helping distribute food to families in the Ein el-Hilweh camp where I live. I am very proud of myself because I have surpassed my own pain and been able to see the pain of my community, and have contributed to alleviating some of it.
I want to make my voice heard by young people and ask them to participate in community action because our community needs us. We, the youth, need to be strong to hold our community together during these challenging times. We need to see beyond our own struggles because we will not be able to survive as a community if we do not support each other. But humanitarian initiatives are not enough. We also need the support of the state, which must provide support to families and the basic needs of life.
* Name is a pseudonym chosen by the blog author