Lebanon

World Vision gives Fatmeh her childhood back

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Far away from all forms of urbanization and complexities of city life, where the number of cars is limited compared to the number of goats and cows, is the rural village where Fatmeh, a 23-year-old volunteer with World Vision, lives.

“We have no chairs or sofas, I am sorry, apologizes Fatmeh while taking us inside, to the living room—a room with nothing but some pillows spread across the floor and a stove in the middle.

After some minutes of silence, broken occasionally by the sounds of chickens and other birds, Fatmeh speaks her first words to us: “I will tell you now something that I have never shared with anyone before,” she begins.

“I think all people know that I am divorced and that I experienced the ugliest forms of torture by my husband,” she says. “But, no one knows that he tried to kill me. He locked me in a room, wrapped my body with a rope, and threw benzene all over around me. He wanted to burn me,” she explains. “I saw the fire in the room. I kept on shouting until neighbours broke the window and saved my life. My three young children saw all of that. Can you imagine? Can you believe it?” she asks. “That was when my oldest child lost his ability to speak and I was finally able to get my divorce. Before that, I was trying to be patient, tolerating his violence, so that I would not leave my children…”

“That day [however], everyone saw his violence and it became easy to get my divorce,” explains Fatmeh.

Fatmeh was living in a city in Southern Lebanon with her ex-husband and their children before she returned to her parents’ house in this rural village. She came back to where she was born and raised until the age of 14, when she got married.

“They told me that if I did not marry young, no one would marry me later, when I turn 18 or 19,” she says, explaining why she got married so young.

“I was very good at school,” she remembers. “I loved school and education. But they told me that I should marry and so I married him,” she says, noting that she was too young and immature to know that it was a very bad decision.

“You know when I became mature and I was able to really understand [the] things around me? Two years ago!” she says. “I was a child when I got married. I understood nothing. I did not even understand why he treated me violently. I did not know what to do,” she says.

After her divorce, Fatmeh’s ex-husband took two of her children, leaving with her one child only, the youngest: Mohammad, who is 3 and the half now. “I lost everything,” she says. “I came here very desperate. I did not want anything from life, at all,” she says.

Azab, Fatmeh’s mother, played a strong motivating role in changing Fatmeh’s life after she returned home. Azab works as a helper in a school that World Vision uses to hold activities in the village. She heard that World Vision was searching for volunteers and encouraged Fatmeh to participate. “I still remember my mother’s words: ‘Fatmeh, you are still young. Go. Join World Vision, maybe you will find hope again,’” she recalls. It was three years ago that Fatmeh began volunteering with World Vision to satisfy her mother’s will. Her life has never been the same.

“Joining World Vision took me nine years back to when I was a child, a happy child; a student again,” says Fatmeh, surprisingly. Like all of World Vision’s volunteers, Fatmeh participated in leadership training sessions before taking responsibility for any child’s activity. Fatmeh felt that the training sessions made her feel like a student again. “When I was experiencing the torture, I used to wish that I could go back in time and control my own destiny,” she said “I would not have married. I would not have ever left school. I would have stayed until I graduated,” she shares, linking those memories with World Vision.

“With World Vision, I felt that I am able to control my destiny. That I am able to compensate the past and all the years I lost,” says Fatmeh. As she was sharing her lessons and experiences at World Vision, a smile spread across her face. Her words filled with hope and passion. “Last year, we organized an event on the Mothers’ Day, under the theme of cooperation between mothers and children. We prepared many interactive games to show mothers the importance of working with their children and listening to them,” says Fatmeh.

Although the village where Fatmeh lives is very conservative and does not motivate females to continue their education, Fatmeh’s parents (unlike most), are currently motivating her to be engaged in World Vision’s activities. “I learned how to lead children, how important it is to be patient with children and never frown in front of them, and what child violence is,” she says.

Fatmeh shares that she is implementing this knowledge to raise her child, Mohammad, and her other children, who she hopes to receive back from their father in the future. “I learned things that I never knew in my whole life,” she repeats.

Fatmeh’s mother not only motivated Fatmeh to join World Vision, but also to work and helped her get her first job as a helper at the school. “Although my salary is not big, I am happy that I am able to collect some money for my children,” says Fatmeh.

Rania Said, World Vision’s education project coordinator for Marjeyoun Area Development Programme, explains that all volunteers are trained to become leaders. “Fatmeh and other volunteers know by how to organize a big event from A to Z,” adds Said.

In fact, Fatmeh and other volunteers have been organizing a number of educational activities on their own. Last year, the volunteers decided (with World Vision’s help) what topics they wanted to focus on in their village. They chose education. “Here in our village, parents do not give attention to education,” says Fatmeh. “We want to raise awareness about [the importance of education],” she added.

As a result, Fatmeh and other volunteers organized a puppet show about education; all the scenarios and key messages were written by the volunteers. “Mothers were the most influenced group,” recalls Fatmeh. “[For many], it was the first time they attended such an event,” she adds, passionately.

Said explains that among the learning activities, the education and life skills project works as well to engage volunteers in entertaining and educational activities, including trips. All the volunteers from Fatmeh’s village have been invited to a trip outside their village.

Said explains that the trips are especially important to females who often do not travel outside of their villages. “[For many] the furthest they travel is to the village itself,” says Fatmeh, sharing, enthusiastically, how the last trip was to archaeological and historical sites in Northern Lebanon; Jeita, Jounieh, and Jbeil.

“I can never forget that day,” she says. “It was the first time I feel happy from the inside; the first time I did something for myself, not for my children or the people around me—just for me and no one else. On that day, I felt like I was a child again,” says Fatmeh.

While World Vision has contributed to helping change Fatmeh’s life, Fatmeh has, as well, left her mark on World Vision through her determination, encouraging the organization to continue to be present in all vulnerable communities.