A story of sisterhood: the Cairo center where women refugees bond
By Sarah M. Qassem
Cairo, Mar 7 (EFE).- When Bakhita Hussein came to Egypt from Sudan 11 years ago hoping to find a safer, better life, she was vulnerable and struggled to integrate into Egyptian society as she did not know anyone.
Still feeling the psychological distress from the life she tried to leave behind, she mostly stayed home, and felt that her life would be better if she returned to her hometown.
But when her neighbor told her about the Tadamon community center and how it empowers refugee women with a host of services such as guidance and advice, Hussein did not hesitate to reach out for help.
“Tadamon has helped me build a new life, a one where I feel like I belong,” the 35-year-old mother of two tells Efe.
“My days now are always full. I come here nearly every day, not just to take part in the activities the center offers, but also to help other women adjust to a life away from home,” she says.
SEA OF SERVICES
Since 2010, Tadamon, which means “solidarity” in Arabic, has been helping refugee women mostly arriving from Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Yemen and Syria find their bearings in their new home.
The center, which is registered as a civil society organization and is located in the Maadi district to the south of Cairo, also provides them with a wide array of workshops such as hand embroidery, sewing and cooking, as well as language and computer lessons.
But most of all it offers a much-needed safe space to talk through the many ways they struggle to make ends meet while resettling in the country.
Egypt currently hosts more than 270,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers — nearly half of whom are girls and women — according to figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says that Egypt has around six million migrants, many of whom are from Sudan and South Sudan.
“Many refugees choose Egypt as their country of destination. Others come here with a plan to transit to Europe but the majority end up stranded here for years,” Fatima Sa’eed, the center’s manager and one of the founders, tells Efe.
BREATHE IN, BREATHE OUT
Each week, in a small room at the center, women begin roasting green coffee beans over an open flame and burn incense sticks.
Then they grind the roasted beans using a pestle and mortar before brewing and serving it in a copper-colored jug in preparation for a Sudanese coffee ceremony that for many of them is a reminder of home.
They sit in a circle and with the coffee-incense aroma wafting through the air, they remember home and speak from the heart about whatever is on their minds, Sa’eed explains.
The 46-year-old, who fled Sudan 20 years ago, points out that this form of group-therapy helps these women vent their frustrations, and develop communication and socialization skills that will come in handy in their new country.
“Female refugees are one of the most vulnerable groups, especially African ones,” Sa’eed tells Efe.
“They are more likely to suffer from racist harassment and other hardships due to their skin color and status, so it is important to create a space where they can feel safe enough to talk and cope with their negative experiences.”