There is a sense of stability that often comes with being a woman in your thirties. Marriage and children, school and career — many of the decisions that were impossibly weighty in youth have often already been made. Women in their thirties are living out the broad paths created by those earlier decisions.
This was certainly true for Nawal, a Syrian refugee now living in Iraq.
All of the foundations for her life had been set by the time she turned 30. She was married, had children, and had a home. She was finished with school and had a good career as the manager of a private language institute in Syria. She was responsible for 13 staff and 455 students.
Life was filled with promise.
Not only were life’s biggest issues sorted, but so were many of the smallest details that add up to make a full life—a favorite grocery store and produce stand, a hairdresser who remembers how you like your hair as well as the things that were heavy on your heart the last time you got a haircut, a baker that makes bread your daughter will eat when she’s going through “one of those phases” and will eat nothing else.
Life was full. Life was stable.
And then it wasn’t.
Nawal and her husband built their life together in Raqqa, Syria. Raqqa is thousands of years old, but if you’ve heard of it at all, it’s likely because of what happened there five years ago—when ISIS made Raqqa their de facto capital.
A decision made by ISIS leadership, a group of people Nawal had never even met, swept away the foundations her life was built on. When Nawal and her family fled Syria to find safety away from ISIS, she lost her home, her career, countless relationships—and stability.
Nawal’s first home outside Syria was a massive refugee camp called Domiz. Originally built to house 1,000 refugees in 2012, it now houses tens of thousands.
Nawal and her family had a small tent to call their own. It was far from the war zone they fled, but not quite the place they imagined raising their children and starting life over. After two months, they moved to a town a few hours south, and when a new camp for Syrian refugees opened nearby three years ago, they moved there.
Each move put Nawal and her family in a slightly better situation but didn’t contribute much to stability for the family.
At their home in the new refugee camp, Nawal’s management skills and keen sense of responsibility were quickly recognized. She found work with an NGO educating camp residents about health awareness and hygiene issues. In a crowded camp, small outbreaks of disease can spread quickly, and Nawal was on the frontline of prevention.
It was good work for her until her husband was injured at his work. With a broken arm, he needed help and support at home. Nawal left her job to care for her family.
This is where your life and Nawal’s intersect. You help to fund WorkWell, a tech training space where young women and men come and learn new, high-demand skills—but also have a place to collaborate together, receive coaching, and gain access to the global digital marketplace.
Nawal’s previous education and work experience were fine for the stable life in Syria she used to enjoy. But displacement revealed her need for a different set of skills. Classes at WorkWell are filling that gap. Nawal is pressing in to learn as much as she can in IT and freelancing skills, and English.
She is so committed, in fact, that she earned the very first Student of the Week award given at WorkWell.
“What do you miss most about Syria, Nawal?” I ask.
Nawal is learning to love the place where she lives now in Iraq, and the Iraqi people. But everything is so different. The land is different, the people are different—even the air is different.
“When you’re away from your home country for a long time, you miss every aspect of it.”
When we talk about returning home to Raqqa someday, Nawal is pretty matter-of-fact in her reply. If there is peace, she can rebuild anything. The prospect of rebuilding doesn’t seem daunting in the least, rather one more step to take in her future.
Being displaced was one of the most devastating events of Nawal’s life. And yet she is seizing every opportunity to reboot.
While she was busy building her marriage, family, home, and first career, the world of work was moving on. Technology was racing ahead, and Nawal was barely aware of the nature of the shift.
Today, Nawal is giving herself the gift of stability, in the form of tech and freelancing skills. She already knows that no one can count on national stability and the absence of war!
But soon, Nawal will be able to create stability for her family, no matter where she lives, instead of relying on circumstances outside of her control.
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