Read our interview with Rana, who speaks candidly about the hardship of leaving Syria, and navigating this journey as a single parent with her two daughters.
Making the journey firstly from your home country to a host country, and then to another country via resettlement, is a hard undertaking for any family – and one that becomes even more difficult as a single parent. The reassurance there is in being able to turn to your partner in such a situation, and to ask those extremely difficult questions of ‘should we leave?’, ‘what will happen to us?’, ‘what shall we tell the children?’ – this is not there for single parents. This is the journey Rana went through before being welcomed by the South Liverpool Churches Community Sponsorship group in 2019.
Rana kindly sat down with us to talk through her experience of being welcomed and supported by a Community Sponsorship group for the last two years, what life has been like raising two daughters as a single parent, and what she hopes for her family now that she feels settled in the UK.
What were the circumstances in which you had to leave your home country of Syria?
We left because of the war. When my daughter’s school was bombed and two of her friends were killed, that terrified me, so I took my daughters out of their schools and left Syria. We managed to get a visa for Iraq and travelled there by plane.
How was life in Iraq, especially as a single mother?
It was very, very hard in all aspects of life there. Firstly, raising two daughters as a single mother is by itself a huge responsibility. Secondly, when we went to the Kurdish part of Iraq, the language spoken there is different. We didn’t don’t know the language or how to communicate with people. Third issue was the financial aspect of it, how to make enough money for my family, especially as I am the only one responsible and it was my decision to take my daughters to Iraq.
To make money in Iraq, I used to cook food and sell it to other families, and I used to teach Quran in a mosque too. When I was cooking the food, I would cook mixed cuisine, both Iraqi and Syrian food. People would tell me how delicious my food was, and that they had never tasted food like mine before! They liked and bought my food, and this is what helped me survive in Iraq.
My eldest daughter had to stop attending school because we couldn’t afford it. I couldn’t do anything because what I earned was just enough to pay for the food and rent. I couldn’t do anything more than this. Leaving my country made me very sad, but not being able to give my daughter the education she needed made me even more sad. When my daughter used to see other students go to school, she would cry and ask me to bring her things like a backpack so that she could go to school too. When we left Syria, I wasn’t sure where we were going or what was going to happen to us. But my thought at the time was that it was better to lose our money and home, than to lose my daughters.
What impact did leaving Syria have on your daughters?
Leaving Syria had a very negative impact on my daughters, because I couldn’t afford to give them a better life. We were just living on the absolute minimum. Our house in Iraq only had the essentials and I couldn’t afford to give them more. Also, we felt unwanted in the Kurdish community we were in. We would try to be friendly with our neighbours and form friendships, but they wouldn’t respond to us. They wouldn’t even allow their children to play with my children.
When I think about those times, it’s really difficult. But that is why I came here. And the Community Sponsorship group has helped me in so many ways, in health, in education, and things like shopping for food. And I was surprised by this, because it was the complete opposite in Iraq where the people wouldn’t even come near us, whereas here the group were helping us with everything.
How did you feel when you were first told by UNHCR that you were going to be resettled to the UK?
When the man on the phone called me to say we’ve been accepted to go to the UK, I burst into tears. I just fell to the floor and I said to him ‘please repeat what you said, please, please repeat what you just said’.
I always felt like we would be helped in some way. I felt like God wouldn’t just leave us alone, he would send someone to help. And I couldn’t give up for the sake of my daughters, I felt I had to keep fighting for their sakes.
I didn’t feel nervous at the thought of coming to the UK. I’m a graduate, I studied IT and business in Syria. And what I heard about the UK was that it’s one of the best countries in the world, a country that people want to send their children to, to get a good education. So, when I heard we were going to the UK, I had that in mind, the thought that we were going to one of the best countries. And I was surprised that a country like the UK would accept me and my girls.
What have the last two years in the UK been like for your family?
It’s been the best two years of my life. It’s felt like a beginning, like my life has started again. It felt like everything was just leading up to us coming here and being part of the UK and this community. Here people have treated me like a human being. As I said, In Iraq people wouldn’t even say hello back to me. But here everyone has treated me like a human being.
The main challenge of settling here was the language barrier. That was the only thing I found difficult. Everything else felt manageable, and that was because of the Community Sponsorship group. The group members would help me with different things. Someone would help me to organize the health appointments, and another person would help me manage the benefits and so on. It has felt like we’re all one big family, with all the group members showing me how to do things step by step.
Even as I was travelling to the UK, I was thinking that I need to buy clothes for the girls. But when I arrived to the home here, the closets were already full of everything! Shoes and clothes, everything was ready and waiting for us. And when school started, the group took us to buy school uniform for the girls. Apart from the language, nothing else felt difficult or hard, and that was because of the support of the group.
The group wasn’t just helping us with the essentials, but they were taking us out on trips to castles, to restaurants and to Wales! It never felt like they were doing this because it was their job or duty to do this, but it felt like we were all going out as friends and family. And it just made me feel happy to think that this is my life now.
And even our neighbour has been so lovely to us, gifting us with presents. If my neighbour doesn’t see me for three or four days, she’ll call me to ask if I’m ok!
What aspirations do you have for the future?
What I would love to be able to do is study nursing and become a nurse. I would love to open up a small clinic in Liverpool and work there with both my daughters. The people in Liverpool are so kind, and I would want to give back to them in some way.
What has community sponsorship meant to you?
For me, it’s meant the start of a new life and a good future. The group have made us feel human again and made us feel as though we can achieve anything we want to. They feel like our family. They’ve never treated us like strangers or too formally, but just as family.
For any families worried about coming to the UK, I would say to them that the people are so nice and kind here. That the group who welcomed us have been so supportive and encouraging. The group exceeded any expectations I had! And I would advise any families coming to really focus on learning the language, because if you have the language skills here then you can achieve what you want to achieve.
The group are a big family for us, they feel like a gift from God. I wish for everybody coming to the UK to find this kind of family.
Thank you to Rana for sharing her story!