#livingtogether | Maha’s story

Giorgos Moutafis for SolidarityNow

“I thought I would never work in my life!”

Maha is from Damascus and she is 30 years old, whereas half of her years she is married! Maha and her husband have five beautiful children, two girls and three boys. All of them arrived at Greece, to the island of Leros, in October 2016; few months later, in February 2017, the team of SolidarityNow welcomed the family to the accommodation structure of Tilos.

“Life is beautiful here. I like the island. In Tilos it is not like the other hosting structures. Before I came here, I was afraid, because I knew how it is to be on an island. As soon as we left the ship, the members of SolidarityNow greeted us with a warm “Welcome!”. Then I started to live normally, an everyday life I had forgotten. We went shopping, we chatted with the organization’s personnel. I felt a tenderness; it is like these people were and are here to surround us with a warmth, exceeding their work.”

Maha learns Greek and English, attending the lessons that take place in the premises of the Tilos accommodation structure, and she admits that the Greek language is harder for her.

Currently, Maha is working as a hotel maid on the island and she describes this experience with enthusiasm: “This is my first job. In the past, I thought I would never work in my life! Now I’m working and I feel my life has changed. The job is a good thing for women and especially for the women from Syria. Now I don’t only sleep and eat, I have a purpose, I have something to do, I have a job. Now, I’m offering things to my family, not just my husband. We both work for the future of our family. Before I was an ordinary woman, I didn’t have anything else, now I have, I get to know people from other countries, I see how life is. I learn new things every day.

She then refers to her husband’s difficulty in accepting her work, “because in Syria women do not work.” Now things have changed, since Maha manages to combine her role as a mother and as a successful worker, and her husband is not only happy but proud and he congratulates her!

Maha speaks warmly and with gratitude for her employer and stresses that she feels great since he treats her equally; as he treats to the Greek employees of his – “she speaks to me in the same way“. Today, Maha and her husband have decided that they want to stay in Tilos because “our relations with the locals are very good and now that we are working we feel we can start our life from the beginning!”

Maha Baraka is a beneficiary of the Hosting Scheme project of SolidarityNow, and she lives at the accommodation structure in Tilos island.

#ESTIA, the Emergency Support to Integration and Accommodation programme, is implemented by SolidarityNow, supported by UNHCR and funded by ECHO.

Tilos – Community & Integration pilot project

The Refugee Accommodation shelter was created in 2015 by SolidarityNow, in collaboration with the Municipality of Tilos and stood out as an example of a local project through which the local community welcomed the refugees, supporting the smooth integration of those who would remain on the island. The operation of the shelter concerns the provision of accommodation to 50 beneficiaries and has hosted 100 people so far. Watch the BBC tribute to the Tilos program: http://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-europe-40586229/the-greek-island-where-syrian-refugees-are-welcome.