I’m 12, I Live in a Refugee Camp, And Karate Is Everything to Me.
In places where early marriage is the norm, girls like Malak dream of empowerment through sports like gymnastics
Malak, 12 years old, Azraq Refugee Camp - Jordan
I remember the school I used to attend in Syria was big and there were many students and classrooms in it. These classrooms had many beautiful drawings and colors hung on the wall. All of the houses and the buildings in Syria used to have high ceilings but ever since the war started, there were no more buildings.
When I left Syria, I was very young. I was with my mom, dad and two siblings. We left Homs in 2013 due to the violence and bombing.
Our house was very big and it had many rooms; a bedroom for boys and another for girls, a bedroom for my parents and a room for guests, as well as a garden in which we planted everything. I used to play with my cousins and neighbors, we used to play a game where we would act like grown-ups and host each other. We used to be happy. I had toys that my dad bought for me, but we had to leave them behind when the conflict started.
I remember the first time I got scared. I used to get terrified whenever an explosion took place, I used to run to my room and close the door on myself. One time, my mother came to my room, grabbed my hand and took me with her to the kitchen and ever since then I no longer got scared.
My parents always remind us of things we had in Syria and how the old days were nicer and simpler. They keep telling us stories about our trips to the zoo, to amusement parks, and to eat in restaurants. They don’t tell us much about the war because we are young, but we do hear the news when we turn on the TV. My mom and dad are my role model because they protected me in times of war. What we have experienced was not easy. They taught me how to be strong and stand up for myself, how to respect people and how to help them in times of need
Life in the camp is very nice because we got used to it and we feel safe in it. When we first arrived here, we were very upset and chafed because it was different from where we used to live. The camp is set in the desert and the weather is always dusty. At the beginning, there used to be no electricity and if we wanted to use the toilet, we had to go outside and wait because it was shared with few other families. There is a big difference between the house we have here and our house in Syria. The house in Syria was large and each one of us had their own room, whereas here in the camp, the entire family lives in one caravan. The house in Syria was made of bricks and we had our own toilets, while the caravan here is made of zinc and toilets are shared with other families.
In the camp, we have the same routine happening every day, especially during the COVID-19 lockdown period that started in March last year. We no longer could go to school or visit centers and playgrounds. I became bored and I felt my time was wasted not doing anything important. In the morning, dad would leave to buy bread and then we prepare breakfast with mom. Afterwards, we would tidy the caravan and bring water from one of the water stations. We then have lunch and go out to play before we return to study online. We cannot attend classes every day because internet is not working every time we have lessons. Once we finish studying, we watch TV, play a bit and then have dinner and sleep.
Karate is everything to me because it strengthened my self-confidence and made me feel strong and able to defend myself and all my friends and sisters. One day when I was in school in the third grade, I heard girls saying that there was a playground nearby for girls and a trainer was there teaching gymnastics and karate. My friends and I became excited since we found something for girls. We went to the playground, which belonged to World Vision, and met with Qamar, the trainer. We liked her a lot and decided to start training with her. We then started persuading other girls to join and we became a large group towards the end. We started training our younger sisters at home, however when a lockdown was imposed in the camp due to COVID-19, I continued training with my sister, so I don’t forget any of the trainings I had taken and to maintain strong physique.
Karate is not about violence like it is said, it is a self-defense type of sport that boosts self-confidence and strength in the community. It helps me defend myself and the girls who get married at a very early age and who get beaten and harmed. I would like to become a gymnastics trainer when I grow up and to go back to my country. I want to train all girls and help them become more empowered and stronger.