“I had a dream to be in school. Then school was bombed—that dream is now gone.”
Meet 19-year-old Malak (left) and 23-year-old Hana (right), two sisters from Yemen who have lived as refugees for nearly half their lives. Malak was only 12 when the sisters lost both of their parents in Yemen… and they have been traveling on their own ever since. From Yemen the two girls went to Syria where they stayed under the care of UNICEF for 5 years as minors. But when the war in Syria forced them to leave, they decided to search for their future in Europe.
I met these girls in a state of total dejection because, for the third time, they had been denied further entry into Europe and were told to go back to where they came from… again. You know that dangerous journey by boat across the Aegean sea between Greece and Turkey? These sisters have made that crossing five different times. I asked about this and they explained that they’ve already been sent back to Turkey two different times and, after working for a total of two years in Turkey to earn enough money to make the journey to Europe, they are losing all hope of a safe future.
Hana and Malak are both bright and beautiful young women, but they have been out of school for years. All they want is a place to call home, where they can get an education and know they are not forgotten.
Friends, please pray for these girls and the thousands of other young women in similar situations. This is an extremely vulnerable population, because when young women like Hana and Malak are without a home and without someone to offer protection, they become prey to coercion, abuse, and in some cases even human trafficking. These girls deserve better than that.
At the same time, let me offer the hopeful side of this story.
The reason I met these sisters was because a South African man named Danie, a Norwegian woman named Kristin, and a handful of young Macedonian volunteers invited me to see their work in the refugee transit camp in Tabanovce (on the Macedonian-Serbian border). The small relief station they run, called Cafe Mercy, provides tea, coffee, food, clothing, etc, to refugees (all free of charge) before they continue their journey by foot Serbia. You can see a quick video I made about Cafe Mercy here:
Without groups like these, Hana and Malak would have continued on their own, unknown and with no encouragement. However, because of a small group of volunteers who put their lives on hold to help refugees, these sisters have received continued encouragement and advice, even after they left the border (thanks to social media).
One of the most impactful moments from my time in Macedonia was when I sat and listened to the Norwegian volunteer, Kristin, speak to three young refugee men who had somberly listened with us as the girls told their stories in a cramped refugee shelter. These men were hardly older than 23 and had recently joined the sisters on their journey. So Kristin looked each young man in the eye and made them promise to protect and keep these girls from harm — a simple, yet profound commitment that the men readily agreed to. With this promise, they stepped into a role with purpose and became accountable for their actions. Most importantly, they stepped into a story of protecting the vulnerable.
While the story of these sisters from Yemen is still messy and unresolved, it brings me so much hope to know that volunteers and refugees alike are stepping up to protect vulnerable individuals in the midst of chaos.