June 20, 2021
“Together we heal, learn and shine” is the theme this year’s ‘World Refugee Day’, which is celebrated every year on the 20th of June. Today’s story sheds light on Shama’s hands-on experience with the Arab refugees. An Egyptian woman who despite her Business degree from McGill University; and her Masters’ degree from the King’s College in the UK, chose to dedicate her time and efforts to serve.
Passionate about supporting refugee communities, Shama visited refugee camps in Palestine; Jordan and Greece. Her first trip was in 2016 to Lesvos Refugee Camp in Greece, which housed almost 2,500 refugees from 14 countries around the world including Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Algeria, Eritrea, Sudan, Congo, Morocco, Tunisia and more.
She spent time with the women listening to their stories, and liaising with the NGOs to help improve their living conditions, especially vulnerable cases such as pregnant women, elderly people and those seriously ill and suffering from trauma.
“My biggest lessons were in humility and presence”, Shama says. ” I may have felt worthwhile and helpful in the beginning, but after few days I realized that there is very little I can do to change the situation; and the only value I could add is by being present and empathetic”, she added.
Shama’s opportunity to visit Palestine came three years later in 2019 through Yoga when she connected with a training center in Bethlehem in Palestine. Having an American passport made the trip possible; but with an Egyptian father’s name, she had many challenges getting into the country.
Shama visited Palestine four times in 2019; and spent around 6 days each time. She lived amongst the Palestinians in their same lifestyle and daily routine. She also visited many refugee camps in Palestine including Aida, Nahhaleen, Dheisha and Arroub refugee camps.
“The refugee camps are very basic and crowded buildings, narrow dirty streets, with insufficient supply of electricity and water; and difficult access to food outlets”, Shama recalls. “The NGOs in Palestine sponsor activities and programs for the refugees including Yoga. The set-up is very basic and in many cases, I gave yoga sessions in limited space on the roof of a building,” she added. “They were so happy to meet an Egyptian as they hardly see any Egyptians in Palestine due to the restrictions. They love Egyptian movies and art; and they were very touched to see someone making an effort to visit and help.”
Due to Covid-19 Pandemic, Shama could not travel to Palestine in 2020; and instead continued monthly online training sessions. She now understands where the Palestinians’ resilience comes from despite their anger, traumas and the occupation. “Palestinian people are very warm and loving,” she says. “Suffering brought them closer together, as they know each other by name like a big family. Their dream is symbolized by the ‘Key of Return’, which refers to the period between 1948 and 1967 when they had to leave their homes. Palestinian refugees took their keys with them in the belief that their return was imminent. More than sixty years have passed, and their numbers have multiplied to around five million. The keys have been passed on from generation to generation as a keepsake—as a memory of their lost homes and as lasting symbols of their desired Right of Return,” she concluded.
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