Her home reduced to rubble by air strikes, Tehane
left Syria, and then sank into a lengthy depression
By Jimmy Patterson
ZARQA, Jordan — The day Tehane left Homs, the Syrian town where she had grown up, the warplanes thundered overhead. From one came a bomb. The percussive boom, fire and collapse of her home served as the moment everything changed for the 25-year-old university art student, who, in a single moment, became a “refugee,” on the run from an unchecked civil war that was destroying her homeland.
Following a lengthy journey across Syria, the neighboring country of Jordan became Tehane’s new home. She, her husband and their two small children arrived in Zarqa like over a million others who have walked days through deserts into often dank, dimly-lighted living quarters in unfamiliar cities of Jordan and Lebanon, two of the several countries in the region that have opened their borders to the refugees. Zarqa is an industrialized town in the north central part of the kingdom that, by American standards, was poor even before the refugees arrived. But it was now home for the family, and together they would make of it what they could — as soon as Tehane could bring herself to accept her new life.
Severe depression froze her every move for months.
Separated from extended family and friends, from her home and her education, she also unwillingly dealt with the reality that she was now stuck in a country not her own. Her future, even her closest tomorrows, was shrouded in uncertainty. Tehane’s pain kept her confined to bed. She was virtually immobilized, with no emotional desire or physical strength to face the day or whatever life threw at her next.
After several months a friend called and told Tehane of an opportunity in Zarqa to help people who were facing the same day-to-day hurt she had been feeling herself. Soon after, Tehane realized she was the one person on the planet who had the power to make herself better. If she didn’t pull herself up, no one else could. Working as a volunteer social worker with Caritas Jordan, a humanitarian non-governmental organization, “is the only thing that got me away from the depression,” she said.
The organization provides comprehensive relief and care to more than 140,000 Syrians in Jordan. The activities are largely supported by the American-based Catholic Relief Services. On top of that, the education and counseling care for children is supported nearly in full by generous donors in Midland.
When not visiting refugees at their homes, Tehane works in Caritas Jordan’s Zarqa Center, organizing paperwork and helping with office tasks. But her heart is in her home visits, where she can reach out and directly help people work through the same feelings she had when she was first forced to come here.
“I get weak and feel sad in some homes. Sometimes, when I see the man of the house and he is crying, I cry. It happens a lot,” Tehane said. “I thought I had a miserable life but when I saw other families hurting even more than I was, I realized I’m OK; I have all I need.”
Strength is perhaps the most important requirement when working as a social worker with Caritas, through which she sees her fellow Syrians enduring all manner of conditions. None would likely choose their current arrangement — if they had choices here in the Middle East.
“When I ask people about their hopes, they tell me they only expect the worst,” Tehane said. “They tell me the way they are now forced to live as refugees is not like they are used to and they have nothing to make them think that anything will get better.”
There are hundreds of stories of courage in the urban refugee centers of Jordan; few are like Tehane who used her courage to change her life and the lives of those with whom she comes in contact from her homeland. The young woman who walked away from a stifling depressive state 18 months ago and other women like her are indeed role models: six other Syrian women in Zarqa are now helping others as social workers as well.