This week, 15-21 June, is Refugee Week 2020 – a UK-wide festival that recognises the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees. To celebrate, we are sharing the stories of refugees living in Gateshead.
My name is Hamzah Al Hussein and I’m from Syria. I’m 25 years old and grew up in a beautiful village. I had wonderful friends there but due to the war I had to flee my home and country and travel to Jordan. At the border there were five checkpoints; it took more than 20 hours to cross as there were so many families escaping the desperate situation.
Zaatari camp is one of the biggest refugee camps for Syrians. My family and I spent two years there living in a small tent. There were six of us. In the summer it was so hot and in the winter it was dark and cold and the tent wasn’t waterproof so the rain came in and things were easily damaged. In the beginning I thought we’d be there for just a few weeks and then I’d be able to go home. I missed my friends and didn’t know if they were alive or dead. As time wore on, I began to lose hope of going home.
I started to look for work, and heard about an organisation at the camp which was looking for volunteers to help with theatre. I have a condition called cacomelia, which means I was born with shortened arms and legs. At Zaatari I helped disabled kids to get up and perform on stage. It was a great experience for them, and it increased my self-esteem. I trained children of all ages in different kinds of theatre. I also had the opportunity to learn from some internationally famous actors!
I gathered the stories of many of the Syrian families in the camp and published them in the camp magazine ‘The Road’. I got to know their needs and linked them with other organisations who might help them.
My dream was to study. For four years I tried to persuade the embassies to let me leave the camp to do this. One day I got a phone call asking me, ‘Do you want to travel?’ I didn’t believe it; I thought one of my friends was playing a joke.
But it was true. After six years living in the refugee camp I arrived in Gateshead. I was shocked by the friendliness of the people who greeted me at the airport, their warm smiles of welcome. It made me feel safe.
In the first month, the Geordie accent was a big challenge. Sometimes I’d smile to pretend I understood but I’d not understood a single word! After a while, though, I was able to understand and speak English. Now I shop for myself and use public transport without a problem.
I am so happy here in Gateshead. I go swimming and to the gym, and I’m studying English and Maths at Gateshead College. I want to say thank you to everyone who’s supported me during a difficult time.
If you have a dream, don’t give up. People are disabled more by their spirit than their physical body.