Women and girls comprise about half of any refugee, internally displaced or stateless population. Stripped of the protection of their homes, their government and often their family structure, women living in exile are vulnerable. Mother’s Day is a moment to celebrate and honor the strength of refugee mothers, and also a time to intensify our support for refugee women.
Photo credit: Karen Minasyan / AFP  An Armenian woman hugs her relatives upon arriving at Zvartnots Airport in Yerevan, Armenia

Photo credit: Karen Minasyan / AFP  An Armenian woman hugs her relatives upon arriving at Zvartnots Airport in Yerevan, Armenia

While many Diasporan Armenians prepare to celebrate Mother's Day in their safe surroundings, many Syrian mothers are in grief over children they lost in the savage war in Syria or live in anxiety as refugees while they struggle to provide for their children.

In the case of Maral, a Syrian refugee mother, she decided to leave her home in Aleppo when the fighting escalated in her neighborhood. She feared the safety of her family and her life and refused to be another number at the hands of rocket attacks.

She refused to be a witness to the brutalities of war that took the lives of more than 200,000 Syrians. Before the war that ravaged her life she led a relatively comfortable life. A life many Diasporan mothers experience in parts of the world not touched by war.

Today, her quality of life contradicts the very life she was born into. As she moves through her day, Maral’s battered feet leads her to the charity center in her new city, her new life. Food coupons are a novelty for her.

“What is your number?” asked the lady in charge of the records.

“My number is 093 ----,” says Maral.

“Not your phone number.  I mean your file number for welfare support,” continues the lady.

Welfare. Like the majority of refugees Maral has become a case number.

“What’s your number?” Maral repeats this question in the quiet of her mind. Maral holds the food coupon given by the lady in charge of records, not even recalling her name, and walks slowly to the supermarket.

My life became a life of numbers, she thinks – food stamps, rent, bills.

But the most urgent of numbers becomes the rent that is due and the bills that have to be paid.

The civil war provoked another kind of number – the number of times she would tell her fatherless son how proud he would be of him, proud of how he remained strong no matter how scared he was. Proud that no matter how many panic attacks he would get when friendly fireworks filled the air of his new home, he would remain strong. Fireworks reminiscent of the bombshells he experienced daily in Syria. Fireworks kids in the Diaspora enjoy untainted by fear or panic.

The cashier summons Maral back to the world of numbers.

She slips the coupon through her fingers and smiles at the young girl behind the counter, all the while consumed with anxiety and perhaps shame that no one she know spots her with a food coupon in hand.

Until the dreary piece of paper disappears, Maral is a nervous wreck. 

Welfare is a hard pill to swallow. She carries her groceries and walks away.

That’s one number checked off her list of numbers.

“You eat my dear boy. I am not hungry,” she says to her boy. The number of times Maral has repeated this sentence is of no importance. It is just another number.

One absurd war, one sinister sniper’s shot and what seems a lifetime of explosions have turned Maral into a refugee case number.

“My dream is to have a safe home again,” she says. “… and to be able to send my kid to school and see him grow up happy, safe and healthy.”

Photo credit: Ghadah Alrawi

Photo credit: Ghadah Alrawi

A short term solution while more permanent solutions are in the works

In anticipation of the situation in Aleppo potentially deteriorating, the Armenian Redwood Project in cooperation with the L.A. Based, Syrian Armenian Relief (SARF) have partnered with Oxfam Armenia for collective impact and cost effectiveness. The joint program aims to further augment the current rent subsidy project implemented by UNHCR and benefit hundreds of Syrian refugee households in Armenia.

Research conducted by the ARP shows that refugee households spend over 66% of their earned income on rent making it their highest expense item. Rental subsidy, which will be provided to the families through bank transfer via an operating NGO, aims at creating some form of an interim “safety-net” program with possible longer-term housing solutions being explored in the meantime.

“We firmly believe that providing affordable housing to refugees who have lost their homes is a critical intervention. Keeping refugees in ‘camps’ or ‘refugee shelters’ year after year is neither a sustainable nor healthy solution,” says Raffy Ardhaldjian, chief action officer of the ARP.

For the last 5 years the world has watched the wrath of the war in Syria with cold apathy. The lives of mothers have been particularly difficult. A difficulty not experienced by the millions of mothers in the West untouched by warfare.

Photo Credit: Ghadah Alrawi

Photo Credit: Ghadah Alrawi

As mothers are celebrated around world today, we place a special spotlight on the mothers of war, refugee mothers, Syrian mothers who we celebrate for their strength, perseverance and determination to provide a better life for their families, their children. In that context, we are convinced that affordable housing is meaningful in many ways;

·      It creates family stability and better childhood outcomes

·      It’s a way to stabilize population movement

·      It contributes to neighborhood revitalization

·      It creates wealth for refugees and economic development for the host country. 

To all of our readers we inspire you to think of the following: 

You don’t have to fly oversees to make a difference.  You only need to be passionate and spread awareness about the cause. A campaign offering conscious global citizens to act on their values will be coming soon.

Give another Mother's Day gift soon that rescues lives.

Happy Mother's Day 2015!