Photo: Houda Houbeish/DRC

Using kinship ties to face the burdens of displacement and loss

The two siblings, Houssam and Noha, found their way to become friends as they survive the struggles of displacement and the discourses of their community.

12.03.2020

Growing up with strong kinship ties have not been an easy experience for the Syrian refugee siblings: Noha and Houssam.

Children like Noha and Houssam, who fled conflict-torn Syria with their mother and younger sister in 2013 and have been residing in North Lebanon, have both struggled with some of the cultural norms that they have inherited from their family, which put their relationship at stake.

They wouldn’t sit, chat or even giggle together. Instead, all they would do was to quarrel and argue about nearly everything. Today, however, Noha, 18, and Houssam, 15, have a special bond.

“Although Houssam is younger than me, he had always tried to control my life because he is the sole male at home,” Noha said.

The children lost their father to the conflict in 2011 and while their mother, the sole bread winner of the family, was out working for around 10 hours per day, the two siblings struggled over who had the right to dominate over the other.

Children learn what they are told

“I used to behave in the way that I considered right. I used to hear my grandmother say that a girl should not learn and should marry before 15,” Houssam said.

Such discourses, which Houssam was used to hearing from his surrounding, pushed him to try to control his sisters’ and mother’s movement inside and outside home, their life style and their decisions.

“I tried to understand what he was going through but it was exhausting,” Noha said.

Houssam’s behaviour led to the deterioration of his relationship with his mother and sisters.

“I used to annoy them a lot and then I felt like they didn’t like me anymore,” Houssam said.

Houssam: engagement in an alternative discourse

In early 2018, Houssam’s friends invited him to join them to a focused psycho-social support session that the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) was offering at their town.

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“At first, I refused to participate but my friends at our neighbourhood insisted because they were all going together to DRC,” Houssam said.

The sessions that Houssam attended targeted adolescent boys and were implemented by DRC in North Lebanon with funds from the United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

During the sessions, Houssam had the chance to engage in discussions about gender roles and human rights. Throughout the discussions, he was introduced to new ways of thinking about topics that he never discussed with anyone before, such as the rights of women and adolescent girls.

“We discussed early marriage and children rights. We also spoke about girls’ rights, such as their right to education and to have a dream to pursue in life,” Houssam said.

As he attended more sessions, Houssam’s behaviour started improving at home, which was easily recognised by Noha. “

He became calmer, more relaxed and nicer in the way he behaved at home,” Noha said.

What future?

As Noha felt that Houssam was no longer confronting her or obliging her to do things that she hated, the relationship between the two became stronger.

Today, Noha works during the summer to collect money that she plans to invest to learn nursing at a neighbouring centre.

“I will have to study for five years but I don’t mind it. This is my dream,” she said.

Meanwhile, Houssam assists his mother in working at the same restaurant to provide extra income for his family. When both come back from work, the family spends time on their balcony to enjoy the quietness of the night and the soft breeze.