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Text by Melissa Hekkers
I first met Fatima over a year ago now. At the time she was participating in a participatory video project with refugee youth in Nicosia, initiated by UNHCR Cyprus. Reserved and somewhat cautious of her stance, the short film that was launched on social media as a result of the project briefly depicts what she was going through at the time as a newcomer to the island (View here). Little did she know that her involvement in the numerous projects being locally initiated for the support and integration of asylum seekers and refugees alike would change her life. Little did I know that Fatima would find a voice, and an opportunity to grow into a confident, driven and determined individual who has concrete hopes for the future and a new home which she calls ‘Cyprus’.
Fatima initially fled Gambia as a minor due to fear and prosecution. Opting not to delve into the intricacies that made her leave her birthplace, its imperative to say that we end our interview with her words: “Cyprus is my home now, the only thing that I miss from back home is my mom. I have fallen in love with Cyprus, the way of life here and it’s people.” It’s imperative to say because this reality is something which Fatima has built through time here, through hardships and endurance, and predominantly, as she describes, through attaining knowledge at the various workshops and projects she has opted to participate in.
Aside the participatory project mentioned above, Fatima has attended workshops on FGM, Youth Mobility, Intercultural exchange and leadership to mention a few.
“I decided to participate in all these projects because I don’t go to school and I see it as an opportunity to build my CV,” she states. “I arrived in Cyprus with no documents, and if I sat and waited for the Asylum Department to make a decision in order for me to start doing things and attend all these programmes, it would be a waste of time for me,” she adds. “I decided to join these projects in order to upgrade myself and to become more aware about the community of the European Union.”
Of course, attending these projects isn’t always as easy as it may seem. “The most difficult part is always my first day in the project; I can’t sleep the night before, I ask myself so many questions: how will it be? Will I be accepted? What will we do?”
“But what I think about the project (beforehand) and what I see once in the project are two different things. The people that lead these projects treat us like we are all one, it doesn’t matter where we come from and what colour we are. I don’t feel isolated anymore,” adds Fatima.
As an outsider, it’s easy for me to see the transformation Fatima has gone through. And Fatima acknowledges that change too.
“Participating in these projects has helped me a lot; people are impressed with what I have been doing, with my life, creating CVs, attending projects, and these have helped me enlighten myself about the way of life of other people, mix with other cultures which has helped me to get to know about the way other people behave in their society. And whenever I send out my CV, they call me for an interview but unfortunately I cannot work due to my status as an asylum seeker,” reveals Fatima.
In between us, Fatima also talks about the fact that these projects give her a means to make good use of her time. “It gives me the opportunity to concentrate and sitting down to read and study also reduces the stress.”
While the knowledge is character building for herself, Fatima is quick to note that she shares the skills and experience she acquires with her own community.
“I have learnt a lot of things that will help refugees and asylum seekers; I share the knowledge with them. Sometimes I try and convince them that by sitting at home and doing nothing won’t bring them anything. That it’s better for them to attend projects for example… I believe that knowledge is more important than the money people are looking for. I believe in knowledge, it’s the biggest priority in my life,” says Fatima.
“Being involved in projects has really changed my life. Before, all I wanted to do was become a nurse, but today I find that that’s not what I want to do. I want to do international relations and help people.”
Having arrived in Cyprus as a minor, Fatima didn’t have the opportunity to finish school, a reality which is obviously a hindrance to materialising her dreams. Yet, under an initiative of UNHCR and CASA College in Nicosia, Fatima is currently studying to sit the entrance exams to attain a high school diploma at the college in question that will offer to 15 asylum seekers and refugees in September.
Today, Fatima can look back and honestly say: “In the beginning I didn’t like it here because of the change of environment and change of society; it’s very different from my society and people.”
“I hope I get granted asylum soon because it has been a great obstacle for me. There are things I want to achieve but can’t, like getting a job. And I also want to contribute to the society instead of taking money from the government; I’d rather be contributing, that’s more important because Cyprus is my home now,” she affirms.
“It will come. Everything needs its time,” Fatima tells me as we part. Full of hope.
*** For more information or ways to get involved please call us at 22662606 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Συνέντευξη της Melissa HekkersΣυνάντησα για πρώτη φορά τη Φάτιμα πριν από ένα χρόνο. Εκείνη την εποχή, συμμετείχε σε ένα κοινό βίντεο πρότζεκτ για νεαρούς πρόσφυγες, υπό την αιγίδα της UNHCR. Ήταν εσωτρεφής και κάπως επιφυλακτική. Η ταινία μικρού μήκους που κυκλοφορησε στα μέσα κοινωνικής δικτύωσης -ως αποτέλεσμα του πρότζεκτ- περιγράφει, εν συντομία, τι περνούσε ως νεοφερμένη τότε, στο νησί (δείτε εδώ). Η συμμετοχή της σε πολυάριθμα τοπικά προγράμματα και πρωτοβουλίες, για την υποστήριξη και ένταξη αιτούντων ασύλου και προσφύγων, θα άλλαζε τη ζωή της. Η Φάτιμα θα βρει τη φωνή της και την ευκαιρία να γίνει ένας σταθερός, καθοδηγούμενος και αποφασισμένος άνθρωπος με στέρεες ελπίδες για το μέλλον της και ένα καινούργιο ‘σπίτι’ το οποίο αποκαλεί ‘Κύπρος’.
Εκτός από τη συμμετοχή στο πρόγραμμα που προαναφέρθηκε, η Φάτιμα παρακολούθησε εργαστήρια και προγράμματα που ασχολούνται με το FGM, Νεανική Κινητικότητα, Διαπολιτισμική Ανταλλαγή και Ηγεσία, για να αναφερθώ σε μερικά. “Αποφάσισα να συμμετάσχω σε όλα αυτά τα προγράμματα γιατί δεν πηγαίνω σχολείο και το βλέπω σαν ευκαιρία να χτίσω το βιογραφικό μου”, δηλώνει η Φάτιμα και προσθέτει “Έφτασα στην Κύπρο χωρίς έγγραφα και αν καθόμουν να περίμενα το Τμήμα Ασύλου να πάρει απόφαση για να ξεκινήσω να κάνω πράγματα και να παρακολουθήσω όλα αυτά τα προγράμματα, θα ήταν σπατάλη χρόνου για μένα.” “Αποφάσισα να συμμετάσχω σ’ αυτά τα προγράμματα για να εξελίξω τον εαυτό μου και να γίνω πιο ευαισθητοποιημένη πολίτις στην κοινότητα της Ευρωπαϊκής Ένωσης”.
“Θα έρθει η ώρα. Όλα χρειάζονται το χρόνο τους”, μου λέει, καθώς αποχαιρετούμε η μια την αλλη, γεμάτες ελπίδα.