Since 2011, the Syrian civil war has shattered the lives of millions, tearing families apart and taking the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Many were forced to leave their homes to seek refuge in other neighbouring countries in search of safety. In 2013, Jordan saw the largest influx of Syrian refugees, with almost a quarter of a million registered arrivals. Amongst these refugees was Heyam Rateb Al-Asmi, a mother of five, who fled to Jordan in hopes of providing her children a brighter and safer future.
Before the war, Syrians enjoyed a stable life where all lived in harmony despite the diversity in cultures and civilisations present in the country. Heyam recalls the days she was able to freely roam around the cities and visit the bustling markets without the fear of exploding cars or sudden attacks. While the memories were painful and she longed to return to her home country, Heyam was determined to rebuild her life in Jordan – not only for herself, but for her children as well.
Heyam began searching for opportunities that would bring meaning and joy to her life. While she faced little challenges in her new life in Jordan, she knew the same could not be said for other refugees. As a result, Heyam sought out ways to help fellow refugees overcome the challenges they face in their everyday lives.
After years of volunteering in her community to help fellow refugees, Heyam joined the Maharati programme (“My Skills” Programme) in 2018 with hopes of furthering her impact. The Programme, implemented by the Jordanian Ministry of Youth in partnership with Generations For Peace and with support from UNICEF, uses innovative sport-based activities to develop life skills and foster social cohesion across the Kingdom.
Over the past two years, Heyam has gained new skills and experiences from the Programme that has positively changed her life. Reflecting on her participation, she shares, “I first joined the Programme to make a positive change in the lives of others, but I now realise that the biggest change has been in myself. My improved communications skills and increased self-confidence have allowed me to become a leader in my community.”
Her newly acquired leadership skills and increased confidence were quickly put to use during the COVID-19 outbreak. Heyam knew she had to lead in helping others, so she quickly sprang into action to create an initiative that supports local families affected by the pandemic. Dubbed “El Jar lil Jar” or “Neighbour to Neighbour,” Heyam’s initiative managed to gain the support of many of her neighbours to safely collect and package necessities and basic supplies to distribute to those in need.
In addition to her ongoing work with her “Neighbour to Neighbour” initiative, Heyam also dedicates her time to spreading accurate and reliable information about the pandemic to combat rumours and fake news. She regularly shares content regarding COVID-19 published by UNICEF and Generations For Peace on her social media channels in hopes of spreading as much useful information as possible.
As Heyam has proved, every single person across the globe can contribute to society. This is especially important now as the world faces a pandemic together. As Heyam puts it, “Persistence, determination, and responsible citizenship will determine your ability to make a change, not the status of your citizenship. Now more than ever, we must come together to help one another and create a more just and inclusive world.”