I’ve noticed a peculiar habit from my mother and many of her contemporaries. I don’t know if it’s a generational thing or not but whenever I bring up her past struggles, my mother feverishly downplays it or just never speaks of it.
This is in stark contrast to myself as I never miss an opportunity to broadcast my woes – often through a bullhorn.
My family migrated to Australia in the 1980’s from war torn Beirut. Although we are not Lebanese, we were living there at the time during one of the most unstable periods in Lebanon’s turbulent history.
Now that I am an adult, I have come to realise my parents did everything in their power to shield us from internalising the trauma we may have experienced while fleeing the conflict.
I once asked my mother what it was like to live in a war zone, and with tears welling up in her eyes, she finally opened up and recounted story after story.
She mentioned not being able to have access to basic food, electricity and medicine for long periods of time and scrambling to find leftover bread. She spoke about having to huddle in a darkened hallway whenever there were sounds of missiles and holding her breath while waiting for them to land, praying it wouldn’t land on us. There was a sense relief when we survived but a concurrent sadness when she knew others weren’t so lucky.
My parents knew they had to get out of the country and we were lucky to have been sponsored to go to Australia. I am very well aware that the difference between those who were able to escape and those who never made it comes down to luck.
My earliest childhood memory was having to abandon my toys as we took a boat to Cyprus and set off to find hope and safety in a far distant land. My mother was scared. She didn’t know anyone in Australia and could not speak English fluently. It was a risk she was willing to take for the sake of her children.
I’ve worked in many fields but I often find myself coming back to humanitarian work. I guess it’s because I will always have a connection to those fleeing conflict through my mother’s experience.
It’s often said that no one chooses to be a refugee and it just can’t be emphasised enough. My mother didn’t want to leave her family, friends and the comfort of familiarity.
I am now working with Australia for UNHCR (UN refugee body) in their Islamic Philanthropy and Digital Teams. It’s been fulfilling working on the Refugee Zakat Fund and trying to help as many people as possible.
It is estimated that there will be around 100 million refugees by next year, sadly many of them are Muslims which is why UNHCR has implemented the Refugee Zakat Fund.
I am so grateful to my parents for sacrificing everything that had to give their children a chance. As my family knows too well, all it takes is one act of generosity to change the life of another.