From engineering to child protection
Their escape was not far from a horror movie: “They were shooting at us, people dropped dead, and I could do nothing but pray to God (that) we (would) reach Jordan in one piece.”
Once in Jordan, Wisam struggled to find shelter. When he finally settled in Irbid, he said “I thought it would be a matter of months until we return back home again.” However, things were very different. He tried to make sense of how his life had flipped around. His reality lay heavy on him.
At 22, Wisam found himself alone in a foreign country with no clear future or glimpse of hope. Prior to coming to Jordan, Wisam had been pursuing a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. Then the war paralyzed his life. Like many other refugees, he had to forget about his education and make a living. Life taught him to toughen up. After struggling to find a job, he worked night shifts at a restaurant, from 4pm till 1am.
They were shooting at us, people dropped dead, and I could do nothing but pray to God (that) we (would) reach Jordan in one piece.Wisam never gave up on his dream of becoming a civil engineer. He saved every penny and worked extra hours at night to fund his education: “It was very difficult, but I had a clear goal in front of me and was planning to graduate from my own sweat without the help of anyone.” He enrolled in Jerash University and graduated after completing the remaining three years.
His dream of practicing engineering did not see the light of the day as he realized that Syrians were not permitted to work in the field due to the shortage of opportunities for Jordanians: “I knew I had to get this idea out of my mind.” Wisam’s harsh reality helped to mold his personality. He decided to focus on volunteering to develop himself in the hope that it would take him to better places. In 2014, his journey in volunteering kicked off, and indeed, it opened the door to new opportunities.
His first volunteering opportunity revolved around child protection: “I had no clue what child protection meant. I was an engineer; I only understood equations and numbers. But here I was dealing with children and learning about child protection.” His interest in protection issues grew: “I loved doing something for a higher purpose; it was as if I found my calling in life and wanted to learn more about child protection.” Eager to learn and expand his knowledge, Wisam read books and NGO-developed booklets on child protection. He also watched online videos on how to become a trainer. His passion manifested into a clear vision that pushed him forward.
Wisam continued volunteering in protection-related opportunities. He joined the “Improving Protection Spaces and Practices (IPSP) for Syrians and Jordanians in Host Communities” program, which Generations For Peace implemented. The program focused on protection and gender-based violence. He was a keen learner and was excited to expand his knowledge of these issues.
I loved doing something for a higher purpose; it was as if I found my calling in life and wanted to learn more about child protection.After receiving training for three months that incorporated Advocacy for Peace, conducting a community needs assessment process, and topics on protection, Wisam was motivated to pass on his knowledge to the participants. He says, “With the knowledge, I gained and my enhanced capabilities, I felt empowered to empower.”
Once Wisam started training youth in his community, he noticed the interest of the participants: “The participants were very engaged. Some males were reluctant to participate at first, but as we delved deeper into the topics, they became more attentive.” Wisam noticed how living in a conservative society impacted the participants: “At the beginning, males and females sat separately in two groups. They were shy and hesitant to debate together.” Wisam worked on breaking those barriers and enhancing engagement between Syrians and Jordanians to promote more social cohesion. He states, “I was delighted to see the transition in attitudes between the participants and seeing them build friendships with one another.”
Wisam adds, “On a personal level, this program truly boosted my self-esteem, I never thought I would be able to facilitate sessions and speak in public in front of 70 people, including people of high (profile) such as (members of parliament), and to discuss such sensitive and serious topics. It also changed the way I deal with my kids and converse with my wife; all in all, it made me a better person.”
On a professional level, Wisam believes the program increased his employability and empowered him with the right set of skills and knowledge. After the program, an international NGO hired Wisam, and he credits the program with this.
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