Resilience, Persistence, and Determination: An Eleven-Year Journey through Social Work in Syria

22 March 2022
Resilience, Persistence, and Determination: An Eleven-Year Journey through Social Work in Syria

The problems Suhad Aboud sees every day are daunting and heartbreaking. Unemployment, debt, overcrowded dwellings, food insecurity and poverty, and harsh living conditions all have impacts on the lives of the Palestine refugees she serves as an UNRWA social worker in Syria.  Suhad knows there are no easy solutions. In conjunction with World Social Worker Day and the 11th year of the conflict in Syria, UNRWA salutes the work of its relief and social work teams in Syria and across the Middle East. 

With the conflict in Syria entering its 11th year today, its full humanitarian impact remains impossible to catalog. Once again Palestine refugees found themselves engulfed in a cycle of conflict and displacement that exacerbates their underlying vulnerability. The tide of human suffering unleashed by the conflict has catastrophic implications,” says Suhad with a deep sigh.

Like hundreds of thousands of other Palestine refugees, 44-year-old Suhad was displaced from her home in Yarmouk camp in 2012. When she recalls the days of fleeing, she, her husband and son endured great heartache. “I know that, like death, I didn’t know where to go when leaving Yarmouk. I know that our pain is overwhelming,” she says as her voice cracks. A whirlwind of memories from 11 years ago reveals that although she lost so much, Suhad is determined to continue to live an ambitious life. During the early days of their displacement, she was abused by her husband and had no option but to ask for divorce. “I found myself responsible for my 16-month-old son,” she says. Driven by courage and perseverance, she was able to cope with the trauma of abuse and her new status as a single mother. She learned to face the adversity of displacement on her own through helping others deal with their own trauma. “I don’t feel helpless and overwhelmed by these events. My resilience helps me to better adapt to life-changing events.”

Part of Suhad’s work is to assess whether families are eligible to register as in need of assistance.  “I made a difference in someone’s life. Though our work is demanding, we as social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. We relieve their suffering," Suhad says.

Against the backdrop of the complex and challenging operating environment in Syria, UNRWA continues to draw on its mandated area of expertise and vast operational capacity to provide fast, responsive support as required to displaced Palestine refugees to meet their humanitarian needs,despite its severe funding challenges. The Agency adapted and developed innovative interventions to reach Palestine refugees with life-saving assistance, including food, cash, and non-food items alongside protection and basic services, and responded rapidly and efficiently to sudden needs. Throughout the conflict in Syria, UNRWA has shown steadfastness of its own, successfully managed to run collective shelters (formerly UNRWA schools) to host the most vulnerable Palestine refugees displaced by the conflict, providing them with everything necessary to serve as a safe home for them. It was also able to ensure an effective and agile response to ongoing and evolving needs.  

Recognizing the Agency’s humanitarian work since the start of the conflict, Suhad highlights that whenever herself and her colleagues are dispatched to shelters to supervise the Agency's humanitarian response, she was part of an operation that showed respect for each refugee they encountered. "We are respectful and work hand in hand to enable them to access services. We were life savers," Suhad notes proudly.

Underscoring the Agency’s gargantuan efforts to improve the efficiency of its operations and mitigate risks and challenges, Suhad highlights the Agency's social work reform to strengthen interventions through the professionalization of the UNRWA social workforce. "We received training between October 2020 to May 2021 on intervention processes and approaches applicable for a variety of social issues," she says. The training examined theoretical and practical case assessment, case formulation and case intervention. The Agency’s social services include provision of focused psychosocial support, adopting a family-based care approach and, where applicable, referral to specialized services.

Suhad, like thousands of her colleagues at UNRWA, are committed to improving the lives of Palestine refugees through social support and mental health. "Working with the Agency helped me acquire the knowledge and skills that qualified me to be a social worker," Suhad says proudly.

As the conflict in Syria continues into its eleventh year, UNRWA, through a range of core and Emergency Appeal programming, remains at the forefront of vital humanitarian service provision. As Palestine refugees live through their second and third displacements, we honour their sacrifices and celebrate their willingness to serve others, in light of their own suffering and hardship.