The will to sur­vive

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - WOMAN - – May Chiam

HER name is Adar. She is a big woman, stur­dily built, with a small, bare face; her nails are stained a red­dish- or­ange rust from henna. The 45- year- old widow speaks softly through an in­ter­preter, never quite mak­ing eye con­tact. She is a So­mali refugee, and her jour­ney here has been per­ilous.

“I came to Malaysia in Novem­ber 2007 with three of my chil­dren. My el­dest son is in Kenya,” she says, fin­gers on her tem­ples. “My hus­band was killed ear­lier in 2007. I came here look­ing for safety.”

Run­ning from a coun­try ripped apart by civil war, she left be­hind a “happy life” that was “middle- class and nor­mal”.

In So­ma­lia, there was a jew­ellery store and a big house; the chil­dren went to a good school. In Kuala Lumpur, there is a flat barely big enough to house the fam­ily. But she had to fight to get this flat, had to fight to fill it with old fur­ni­ture.

“When I came here, my kids were young. There were many prob­lems: I couldn’t speak the lan­guage; I didn’t know how to start a new life in a for­eign coun­try; and I didn’t know how to find a job,” she says, clutch­ing her UN­HCR file.

As a sin­gle mother, she al­ready had to fend for her chil­dren by her­self. As a refugee, state­less and with­out the pro­tec­tion of a govern­ment, she is even more vul­ner­a­ble.

Her eyes well with fresh tears as she re­mem­bers how hard it was just to sur­vive. Now her chil­dren are teenagers – 16, 17, and 19 – at­tend­ing a school for refugees.

She works as a seam­stress, spend­ing her days sewing on an old Singer ma­chine. The UNCHR has given her a liveli­hood, she says, tak­ing out a cer­tifi­cate for a sewing course from the file.

In So­mali fash­ion, she makes bright, pat­terned fab­rics, and sells them to fel­low So­ma­lis and Arabs.

“I make the de­ci­sions for my fam­ily. It’s not an easy job, shoul­der­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity, think­ing about how to sur­vive.”

But af­ter nine years here, things are dif­fer­ent and she’s “hap­pier” be­cause they “fit in more”.

A world away from the life she knew, she’s come out on the other side. She wants to tell other women like her to “be pa­tient, work hard, and be brave”.

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