Girls make their way through a refugee settlement in Beirut. Credit: Kate Moore WHAT do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a questio... || with Tara Moss and UNICEF walking through a refugee settlement in Beirut LebanonGirls make their way through a refugee settlement in Beirut. Credit: Kate Moore

WHAT do you want to be when you grow up?

It’s a question I often ask the girls and young women I lead as a Girl Guide volunteer and I love the conversation it sparks. I love hearing about their ambitions, or digging deeper into the things they love to do, want to study and make a career of. Occasionally, just occasionally, I might despair at a lack of diversity among the gender roles they’ll share with me, or muse that women still have a long way to go.

But all in all, the young women and girls I volunteer my time to empower have a vast array of choices open to them and I’m old enough now to have seen a good many of them embark on, and excel, at their chosen path.

Earlier this month, and well away from the usual Girl Guide halls or open-air camps I ask this question at, I was with UNICEF Australia National Ambassador Tara Moss when she asked the same question of teenage girls at a life skills program for victims of sexual violence, in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon.

Their faces lit up and the room – previously full of girls politely replying to Tara’s questions and patiently waiting for the language translation – became the noisy, excited babble I am used to.  Tara and I smiled at each other, and at them. Here were young women, all of them Syrian refugees, who wanted to and could change their fortunes. A doctor, said one.  A lawyer said another. A teacher. A scientist. A journalist, a writer – like Tara.

We went around the circle, each girl rushing to have her dream translated and share it with us.

But as quickly as their excited chatter filled the room, it stopped. One young woman, just a little older and wiser than her peers – at least in life experience – said her piece and waited quietly for the translation. Her friends, sobered, waited too.

The translation came: I have dreams, but what good are they without an education.

She’s right. The awful truth for these young girls, rebuilding their lives amid the safety of a UNICEF-supported program but against a backdrop of violence, displacement and ongoing uncertainty, is that their education is now so disrupted they have little chance of being the things they dream. Already they face pressures to marry, if not married already, and some, carrying the shame of rape or sexual exploitation, are likely never to have the security that a husband and family can bring.

They can try to learn the basics they’ve missed out on, but these other pressures are too great and their only hope is for their sisters and one day, tragically too soon, their daughters.

You asked that I share with you stories from the three days I spent visiting Syrian refugee families with author and advocate for women and children, Tara Moss.

That’s just one story.

I held an eight-week-old baby hot with fever, listless and close to choking because of a respiratory problem it may well succumb to. I listened to the conversations of my UNICEF colleagues while they tried to negotiate temporary accommodation for refugees from a camp that burned to the ground following a simple cooking fire; a fire that broke out in a camp adjoining the ones we were visiting. I listened to mothers speak, in fear, for their children while they wrestled with the decision to see family members lost to terrorist groups offering to pay their rent and bills. Their hands reached out, imploring us to find a solution while young children played outside in the dirt and older boys loitered around our four-wheel-drives.

These were but a handful of stories, from a handful of the millions who have left all they know in Syria and risked everything to be safe. Safe. || with Tara Moss and UNICEF visiting outreach programs for refugees in Tripoli, Lebanon || with Tara Moss and UNICEF visiting gender-based violence outreach programs for refugees in Tripoli, Lebanon
A game of peek-a-boo at the door of a family's home - a makeshift set-up in an empty shopfront in Tripoli. Credit: Alessio Romenzi

Tara Moss has a UNICEF Australia appeal open. The appeal focuses on the many, many children born into an emergency like the Syria crisis. You can read more about Tara’s trip to meet these children here, or on Tara's website here, or watch and listen to the interviews she’s given here, here and here.

If you’d like to donate to UNICEF’s work for children, especially the youngest and most vulnerable, please do. Visit || with Tara Moss and UNICEF visiting education programs for refugee children in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
Little people's shoes inside a temporary learning space. Credit: Kate Moore || with Tara Moss and UNICEF visiting health programs for refugee children in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

Nour, eight-months, one of the beautiful healthy babies we met at a UNICEF-supported mobile health clinic in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. Credit: Alessio Romenzi

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  1. Hi Katie. I had no idea that you did this kind of work overseas, apologies if I have missed a few bits along the way. It is such a complex, difficult issue isn't it? I am sure those girls that you & Tara spoke to will remember that you listened to them and their stories. We are very lucky to be Australian aren't we? Lovely post, I hope you are having a good week.

    1. Jane, don't apologise at all. I'm not overseas very often - mostly deskbound in Sydney. It's an extraordinarily complex issue and the humanitarians who work with this daily amaze and inspire. They really do.

  2. So huge! I'm still trying to process it. Blessings to you all. xx

    1. Jen, it's pretty big, isn't it? I still have pinch me moments that I am fortunate enough to be able to see, hear and understand person-to-person more than so many others can, do,or even choose to.

  3. What an eye opener - I mean we hear the stories all the time but can only just try to imagine what these people go through every day... How wonderful you got to actually go over there to see and bring notice to the help Unicef much human sacrifice. Brave people!

  4. AnonymousJuly 04, 2015

    Wonderful writing Kate. A very difficult and complex situation which you tactfully have put a human face too. So sad. Veronica