The women arrive at the beautifully designed St. Joseph's University. We are well resourced for the workshops and in a nice, large, cool room. 17yr old Najwa who knows the odd word in English comes to me, looking sad and quietly says it’s her dream to study somewhere like this. We have a quick chat. Then I get busy with the women. A couple of minutes later she turns round and tears are welling up in her eyes, she repeats it again - how desperate she is to study. There is no way she will ever have an opportunity to go to University. I tell her that I didn’t go to University. She can’t believe it, her face lights up. “Really? what did you do then?” “I just worked instead”. A couple of minutes later she comes back to me, smiling. “you have inspired and encouraged me, you really have”. I have never felt more proud not to have a degree!
After the workshops of ice breaker games and simple exercises, I take the bus with the women back to their camps - I ask them how they found the day and what they liked about it, here are some things they told me:
“It’s been 2 years since we laughed like that.”
"Can't we do this for longer than 8 weeks?"
“It was so nice for us to change the scenery, we’re always stuck in tiny houses and there are lots of us in a tiny space.”
“I was laughing here (indicates face) but I wasn’t laughing here (indicates her heart) because we are crying for our country.”
One of the women walks me through the camp, I need to find a plastic ball to use in the workshops. As we wandered down smelly, dirty, narrow alleyways, I see a shower of water coming from what I thought was a balcony, someone cleaning it - I look up and it’s a drain pipe - seriously hope it wasn’t coming from a toilet because some of it splashed on me! I got the ball. Next stop - back to the factory to collect 40 bamboo sticks.