Today • • 21 July

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From Refugee to Community Leader

For Yusra Ali Saif Salem, basketball is her favourite sport. But for more than 10 years, she hasn’t been able to play it. 

Playing the sport again reminds her of her childhood in Yemen, where she was born.

“It’s like holding a diamond in my hands,” she depicted.

The memory however, is like a double-edged sword. Intertwined with the fond memories of her childhood, she also remembered the way women are treated in her homeland. For example, she was not allowed to play any games as a young girl. 

It is in her adopted country – the country she now lives as a refugee – where she has found the freedom she has long sought for.

In 2014, the civil war in Yemen – on top of other personal circumstances, had driven Yusra away from the country, leaving behind her family and friends. Bringing along her seven year-old son, Abdul Rahman, she travelled to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia using her own savings, where an uncertain future lay ahead for her. 

Yusra struggled to make ends meet because refugees are unable to work legally in Southeast Asian countries. For Yusra who is also a mother, her main concerns and worries revolved around her son’s education, health and wellbeing. It wasn’t easy for her to be the sole parent for her son, in a foreign land. To pay for basic necessities, Yusra cleaned homes. During dire times, she relied on the generosity of others to survive.

“I wish to be able to provide all the amenities for my child, for instance, going to a theme park. I worry about raising my child and how we will make it through,”

Yusra Ali, refugee residing in Malaysia

Then, things started to change for the better. A benefactor learned that Yusra had received training as a hairdresser and make-up artist in Yemen. Word of her skill then spread within the refugee community. In spite of her basic supply of makeup and hairdressing equipment, Yusra managed to build up a client base. 

Through this, Yusra realised the importance of having employable skills for the refugee community, for them to be able to change and better their lives. Inspired by her own experience, Yusra started to conduct workshops specially for other refugee women. 

She believes that life is about sharing and motivating other refugees to contribute their skills, time and services to help one another out. Since then, Yusra has worked diligently with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to facilitate their refugee programmes. Her active community involvement has given her a voice amongst refugees, being a respectable advocate for single mothers. 

Yusra’s resilience is a guiding force, especially for other women in the same situation as her. According to the UNHCR, 32% of the refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia are female, as of May 2019.

“I wish all mothers, single mothers, to be brave and a model for every refugee. To be strong so that they don’t need to ask anyone for anything.”

Yusra’s hope is to continue helping the refugee community. She hopes that her experience will in turn inspire her son to follow in her footsteps. Her past life in Yemen has moulded her character, while her experience in Malaysia has broadened her skillset and confidence. 

For individuals like Yusra, her fearlessness shines brightly in the darkness of uncertainty. 

If you would like to help the refugee community in any way, you can visit our Care for Refugee page for more information.  At Global Ehsan Relief, we aim to deliver aid and development programs to those who need it most in an efficient and effective way without prejudice to people’s religion, sex, age or ethnic background.

Reference: Our Better World