A Mother’s Courage ⁠— Fatena’s Story

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The refugee settlement of Burj Barajneh is just one square kilometre, but it’s home to 20,000 refugees from across the Middle East who now live in crowded apartment towers. Its narrow streets are covered in nets of illegal wiring and pipes. Families live in crowded apartments and it’s often too dangerous for children to go outside and play. Raising a family in a place like Burj Barajneh is a challenge, but it’s here that Fatena and her husband were raising their four children a decade ago.

For Fatena and her family adapting to life in the settlement was extremely stressful. The grief, poverty and cramped quarters kept the mood tense even at the best of times.

As Fatena’s daughters grew up, they started to assert themselves and act out. Fatena felt that she had to be strict to keep a sense of order in her home or else everything would fall apart. She and her daughters fought constantly over whether they were spending enough time on their schoolwork and whether they could go outside.

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Around the same time as these arguments flared up, her young son became depressed and withdrawn. He didn’t know how to deal with the stress he was feeling, and Fatena wasn’t sure how she could help him.

In 2011, the supervisor of her son’s kindergarten suggested Fatena enroll in a course that Right To Play was offering for parents in Burj Barajneh. The class was designed to help refugee parents deal with the challenges of raising a family in the settlement, and used the same games Right To Play uses for children, adapted to an adult audience.

“Right To Play program sessions increased my personal strength and knowledge of how to resolve my children’s problems.” – Fatena, Right To Play alumna

Fatena went because it was a chance to get out of the apartment and meet new people, but she kept going because of what she was learning: how to be an active, engaged listener, how to defuse and resolve conflicts, and how to manage her own emotions and stress. The classes also equipped her with simple techniques and games she could play with her children to teach them the same skills.

During each session, Fatena wrote down what she learned at the course and brought her notes home to share them with her husband. He would help her think about family situations where they could use the games. Over time, as she used the techniques and skills she had learned, things at home began to improve. The number of arguments decreased, and Fatena’s relationship with her daughters began shifting to one based on mutual trust and respect. Fatena credits the class with helping her become more confident in her parenting, which made it easier for her to admit to mistakes and work with her children to resolve problems as they came up, instead of arguing with them.

“The parental engagement training influenced me to change. The trainers had a great impact on me through their smiles and their straight-to-the-point questions. These questions made me think about the correctness of my behavior towards my children. When they teach new concepts, it is always followed by encouragement and positivity,” says Fatena.

“These questions made me think about the correctness of my behaviour towards my children” – Fatena

Fatena had such success that she began sharing her new knowledge with family members and neighbours. Her sister-in-law, also a mother, was the first to benefit when Fatena started advising her. Fatena went to more courses offered by Right To Play, and learned about child protection issues, like how to handle the risks from the dangerous wiring that kept children indoors. She also learned about the urgent need to improve literacy in the settlement’s young children, and how to deepen parent-child bonds. Other mothers started coming to her for help and advice on how to deal with issues with their own children.

As her skill and reputation grew, so did her confidence, and soon Fatena was volunteering with women’s groups in the neighbourhood, with the local kindergarten, and with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency that handles the refugees’ schools. She had always been interested in social work, but had prioritized raising her children over working. Now, she was able to do both.

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Fatena’s expertise has opened new doors for her. In the past year, she became the supervisor of one of the local kindergartens. The extra income is helping the family become more economically secure, and allows her to continue to develop her interest in social work and her expertise in childcare.

In the decade since Fatena first attended a Right To Play course, her children have continued to flourish. From complaining about homework, her oldest daughter is now studying Arabic Literature in college, while her two younger daughters are star pupils at the local school. Her son entered a Right To Play program at his local school and plays the same games his mother taught him years ago.

In the middle of the continuing stresses of living in Burj Barajneh, Fatena and her family have the tools and skills they need for a peaceful home. Together, they have created a refuge where they can feel safe, loved, and respected. Their family life is warmer and richer, built on trust, respect, and communication. Living as refugees continues to pose challenges to Fatena and her family, but now they feel empowered to overcome them.