In honor of International Women’s Day, three refugee women in Cairo are sharing their wisdom and experiences. Laila from Sudan, Salam from Somalia and Najat from Eritrea are all part of the community at our local partner, St. Andrew’s Refugee Services.
Najat is an Eritrean mother who is passionate about handicrafts. She fled her city due to war, which also meant dropping out of school. She went to Sudan and then Egypt.
Although she struggles with not having a steady income, Najat is a passionate volunteer in her community. She teaches other migrant women to sew and crochet. “As some women cannot buy clothes for their children, I help them make clothing by recycling clothes. I find handicraft work enjoyable, and it relieves the stress and pressure that I suffer from.” Najat says that some of the women’s children suffer from cold or harassment from not having the right clothes, so she’s grateful for the chance to help fix this.
Despite the challenges, Najat has a relentless optimism. “Sometimes, we do not have enough cash to buy materials and crochet threads for the trainees. Nevertheless, I encourage the women I work with to continue trying to improve their situation because I believe that women can always change their status for the better,” she says.
Salam’s strength has led to her make courageous decisions for herself and her son. In Somalia, Salam suffered abuse and persecution from a family member. She made the heartbreaking decision to leave her son with other family members where he would be safe and go in search of safety and a way to earn a living and provide for her family.
That same courage has carried Salam through many challenges since she left Somalia. She completed her studies and now earns a living helping other refugees and communities. Salam says that working with refugees makes her heart happy because she feels valuable. She shares her own story with women to motivate them to move beyond the past and pursue a different future. “I say to every woman; you have to move on from your past to have a better future.”
Not only has Laila fought for her rights as a woman, but she took it upon herself to fight for the vulnerable in her community.
Laila worked as a lawyer in Sudan to defend persecuted minorities, people who were arbitrarily detained and women in prisons. Laila had five children, including a beloved daughter who has a disease that left her completely unable to move. Then Laila lost her husband, so she has been raising and providing for her children by herself.
In Sudan, Laila’s work resulted in threats and even beatings from authorities. She was arrested with other human rights lawyers. Eventually, she knew she had to flee. “In the beginning, I was proud to support the vulnerable and to defend them in the courts, but when I felt the danger lurking at my children, I chose their life over my activism,” Laila says.
Life in Cairo has not been easy. “My children are living in a very closed environment here in Egypt. I need to protect them from getting kidnapped or harmed,” she says.
Despite everything she has been through, Laila loves life. She has high hopes for what her children will be able to accomplish, and she still has aspirations for her human rights career. Laila now works at CWS’s partner, StARS; she helps community organizations by providing counseling training.
Laila’s advice to women is to learn to rely on themselves no matter what and to develop practical and life skills. Strong women can withstand whatever life throws at them.