From where I stand: “I have the eternal belief that education is the nucleus of empowering communities”

At 50, Fatima Alhaj has finally found the confidence to overcome the pain of her past. A Syrian refugee living in the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan since 2016, she regained her sense of purpose after joining UN Women’s Incentive-based Volunteer programme as a literacy teacher, where teaching and writing are her catharsis.


Fatima Alhaj, 50, is utilizing her passion for teaching in the UN Women Oasis to empower children and women to succeed in their future. Photo credit: UN Women/ Lauren Rooney

QuoteI could not live with the shooting, death, war, and destruction anymore. I had seen so many families torn apart by the war and I knew it was only a matter of time before mine was too. In 2016, I made the journey with my four children and my mother from Aleppo to Jordan.

We rode in the back of a cattle truck and it felt like an eternity to get here. Leaving everything I had behind: my dreams, my memories, my friends, and entering the unknown was one of the hardest decisions I have made.

In the beginning, life in the camp was very hard. I consistently had nightmares of someone trying to take me back to the war and the terror. It is so hard to overcome the frightening images and memories that we had to witness during our time in the war.

As a refugee, you face constant obstacles: the need to stay safe, to flee, to witness, to overcome pain and much more. I knew I had to find a job for the survival of my family. I had been providing for them for a number of years on my own after my husband passed away before the war. I worked as a teacher in Syria and did not think I would be able to find the same opportunity here.

When I saw that there was a teaching opportunity at the Oasis, I immediately applied. Teaching has long been a passion of mine. I taught children Arabic and English literacy lessons for over 17-years. When the school where I taught was bombed, I opened a classroom in my own home for up to 40 children. I would teach them three days a week and do it for free.

The Oasis has given me the opportunity to financially support my family and carry on my dream of teaching. I have the eternal belief that education is the nucleus of empowering communities and ensuring a brighter future for refugee children.

My dream for the future is to empower other women, children and refugees like me to believe that they are strong and have the power to carry on in life and succeed.

This is my poem 'Becoming a Refugee,' to let other refugees know that they are not alone in this struggle:

You who are awake

I am fed up with my soul

I am exhausted of my morning breath

I am exhausted of displacement and migration

And the toughness of existence and its urgency

I left my mourning homeland

Groaning of pain and hemorrhage

Scars that tells stories

And draw the shades of ghosts


So, we were labeled as refugees


You who are awake

You have our profound gratitude

You who have brought joy

Doves of peace and security

You on the horizon waving

Promising that security is forthcoming

Sleep, my eyes, and have a rest

Here are the best companions

Who raised the sail of success

You are a success, you refugee, so listen

You are not alone in this.


[Click below to listen to Fatima narrate her poem]

SDG 5: Gender equality
SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth
SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions

UN Women’s incentive-based volunteer programme in the Azraq refugee camp is generously funded by the Government of Japan under the ’Women’s Leadership, Empowerment, Access and Protection in Crisis Response’ (LEAP) programme. Fatima’s story relates to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16, on promoting peace and security, SDG 5 on gender equality and the empowerment of women, as well as SDG 8, on full and productive employment and decent work.