Jasmine Fakhry, The Circle

Working at the UN can be quite appealing to many people around the world. Serving refugees might seem even more attractive and extravagant to many of those who strive to find themselves a place at the UN system. I was one of those who always dreamed of joining the ‘saviours’ of the world, the ‘knights’ in shinning armours, and the ‘heroes’ who save the world from injustice and relieve the pain of those who suffer. Indeed UN staff – and particularly those who work with the disadvantaged and displaced communities – are World Champions and the peacemakers of the world. This is how I used to believe – and still believe part of it – until I got a wakeup call one day.

When there is mention of refugees, people expect to hear heart-breaking stories about how vulnerable refugees go through difficult life situations. ‘Weak’, ‘vulnerable’, ‘struggling’, ‘lonely’, ‘isolated’, ‘at risk’, ‘separated’ along many other words all are vocabulary that can be easily associated with such stories. It seems like it almost never appears to anyone that these could also be fit to describe of those who relieve refugees; UNHCR staff. When I walked down that door in the small office located across the Mediterranean coast -Alexandria city, I tried to hide my fear and put on the strong looks thinking that as a UNHCR staff I was the one expected to alleviate the suffering of refugees. I did not want anyone to know not only that I was a single mother who have suffered and lost quite a lot in life, but also that I was feeling vulnerable and weak from the inside. Living in the dark for some time and as I was trying to balance between my own battles as well as counselling refugees to overcome their own troubles, things were not getting any better for me.

On a Thursday night, I was sitting on the couch trying to relax and watch television after the exhaustion of a heavy one-week youth camp that targeted refugees, migrants and national citizens. The door opened suddenly and I saw my mum screaming on the phone with her eyes looking like she has seen a ghost. The shock made me unable to decode the words she was saying. “Your brother is gone”, she cried out hysterically while her knees almost bent taking her down to the floor. My thirty- year-old green-eyed blond brother – who was spending his summer holiday in a resort in the Dead Sea with his wife, four-year-old son and six-year-old daughter – was well-built and was in a very good physical shape. It seemed to me that my mum did not realize what she was saying. It was only when I spoke to my sister-in-law who sobbed over the phone that I realized that he truly just passed away all of a sudden on the first day of their vacation. Whether there is an explanation or not, death has found its way to my brother and my moaning and disbelief could not bring him back.

Amidst the shattered dreams, tributary tears and lung-bursting screams, I watched my brother’s coffin carried away by family and friends. To my astonishment, some refugees have showed up for condolences and have rushed among the crowd to carry the coffin. Having buried their loved ones – one after the other, they have still come to show me that life might take our cherished ones but it also gives us back resilience, wisdom and compassion and find ways to pay us back along the years. My brother’s death was another brutal strike that hit my path, but the death of fourteen family members of one of the refugees – who stood by my side at the time – did not stop him from moving on, fighting, coping, and facing the miseries in life. Survivors of war showed up in my life to teach me that while others have died, those who were chosen to remain alive have to earn their life.

It was undeniably a turning point for me when I started working in the community empowerment project. Believing that refugees have resilience and strength that enable them to cope with their situation, I became more enthusiastic about what one can do in life. This is what really makes heroes, it is our determination to face, endure and fight one battle after the other in pursuit of our dignity and dreams. It is worth mentioning that community empowerment is one of UNHCR’s best programs and interventions where statements like ‘you can be the change you want to be’ could actually come true. After almost four working years with UNHCR, something deep has happened to the heart and mind of mine as I drew strength and resilience from refugees. I realized that I did not join UNHCR merely to relieve refugees but to help myself and seek my own salvation. I work in this section of UNHCR where I write many reports about how through UNHCR’s programs we have helped many refugees to be empowered. Yet, the story from the inside goes on about how a UNHCR staff turned from a vulnerable woman who have put through quite a lot in life to be inspired and empowered by refugees and become this strong woman I am today.