Erbil, 02 May 2017 - There is a steely determination in Zozan. As you listen to this 25-year old woman, you know she will go places. She shares what she would like to do most in life: to learn new languages and to travel to distant lands.
In some ways, Zozan has begun doing both. She has already crossed international boundaries but as a refugee.
When the war in Syria became just too bad in February 2013, together with her parents, brother and sister, Zozan had to flee their native town of Al-Hasakah, in northeast Syria. It was not an easy journey. The driver who brought them had the right connections the that allowed them to pass the various checkpoints. They eventually made it into the Kurdistan area of Iraq. Carrying their few possessions they walked through the mountainous terrain right up to Dohuk. It was not easy, but at least they were safer.
Zozan looks back at the days in Al- Hasakah. She was a student doing her engineering studies when war broke out. Life was comfortable until then. Al- Hasakah a city with a historic past was home to an ethnically diverse population of Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians and Armenians. She is filled with nostalgia as she remembers her home of her childhood and teenage years. A wave of sadness overwhelms her as she thinks of the violence that has gripped so much of Syria.
“There is too much of killing; it will take a long time for peace to return to Syria,” she says with teary eyes.
Her family finally settled in Ankawa in Erbil. Adjusting to a new city, culture and environment was not easy. Nevertheless, Zozan took everything in her stride. Her elder sister is married and settled in Ozal, about 25 kms away from Ankawa.
She called Zozan one day to inform her that a team from the JRS Centre in Ozal had come to visit her family. The JRS team had also informed her that JRS was conducting various programmes for refugees and IDPs. At that time, Zozan was looking for opportunities to do something with her life. She immediately contacted the JRS Centre in Ankawa and from then on, she began a new chapter.
She enrolled, for not one, but for three courses at the JRS Centre: English, Kurdish and Computer Education.
“Three courses at the same time?” Rupina Khachik, the JRS Project Director chips in “We allowed her to do all three courses because we saw that she was determined to do so! Zozan came out with flying colours in all of them. We are proud of her!”
Zozan says she enjoyed doing the courses. The JRS Centre soon became a second home for her. She was given a sense of belonging and acceptance.
“I was never treated as someone different: as a Syrian or a refugee. I was made to feel that I belonged here!” She goes on to add, “I have made many new friends coming to JRS, from different religions, nationalities and ethnicities.”
Zozan is effusive about the courses. “They were really very good and so were the teachers.”
JRS also helped her through some short-term courses, ‘How to write a CV’ and ‘Preparing for a Job Interview’. Zozan feels that JRS empowered her and enabled her to get a good job as an Administrative Assistant in a company.
A couple of months ago her father died due to a painful illness. She misses him. However, for Zozan life goes on.
Zozan has dreams of going back to Syria one day; of imparting the skills that she has learnt from JRS with others in her country, who are less fortunate. As she shares her dreams, an endearing smile lights up a face. Given her grit and determination, Zozan is bound to go places; her hopes will surely become a reality one day.
- Fr Cedric Prakash SJ