A Choice of Sacrifice. A Choice of Hope
When Singaporean Hana Alhadad moved to Oman, the Yemeni refugees she works with there reminded her of the sacrifices her grandparents made for the family.
Last year my husband and I decided to move our family from Singapore to Muscat, Oman. I felt anxious, excited, sad and eager all rolled into one emotional furball!
I researched on Yemeni refugees in Oman and found that since the war began in Yemen five years ago, Oman has kept a prudently low profile over what many call the “brotherly assistance” and has not published official figures on the number of refugees here.
There's no question in my mind that my long involvement with refugees is related to the fact that my grandparents left Yemen to seek a better life for their family; and my husband’s family sought political asylum during Saddam Hussein’s regime, and was essentially on the run before making the United States their home.
To make the most of our move, we decided to conduct a donation drive in Singapore, for Iraq and Yemen, to be distributed when we get to Oman. In two days, we collected a variety of items from clothes for all ages, diapers and blankets to toys and even foldable bicycles, which filled up a 20-foot container.
Friends and family from Iraq came to visit soon after we arrived in Muscat with empty suitcases and went back with them filled with donated items to be distributed upon their return. We also met someone here who helps us send aid over to Yemeni refugees by trucks through his charitable organisation.
We felt encouraged. We wanted to conduct more aid donation drives here. Then the coronavirus lockdown happened. The airport, land, even provincial borders were closed. No one could enter or leave Muscat without special permission. No aid could go out.
I remembered my mum would always tell me, “Charity begins at home”. So I started looking closely at ‘home’. We know that Yemeni restaurants mostly employ their own in the kitchen so we went to talk to a few of them (through takeaway windows, all masked up). Many came here as visitors with no intention of returning; they earn a low-wage in cash and send money back home. Still, they believe they’re the fortunate ones. Some are not as lucky having lost their source of income, and stranded in a lockdown.
We put the word out that we're seeking funds to help refugees, overstayers, undocumented individuals and families, many of whom are afraid to seek aid or assistance from official channels for fear of deportation.
The holy month of Ramadan came when Muslims all over the world would fast from dawn to dusk. Many of our friends and family reached out to ask about giving sadaqah (‘charity’) on their behalf to the most vulnerable here. Word got around fast among informal networks here too, and soon we were delivering care packages to homes and giving cash to tide them over this difficult period – one socially-distanced conversation at a time.
We met Abdullah* looking distressed sitting on the steps of the hospital with a baby in one arm and a little boy tightly hugging the other. His wife had collapsed and was taken to the hospital. He was worried the bill was going to wipe their entire savings.
We met Wardah* outside her rented house that she shares with another family also from Yemen. There was a certain disquiet beneath her temperate composure as she explained how her family of nine is struggling to make ends meet with no money coming in.
We met Hikmah* from Iraq who entered Oman illegally and are now despairing and desperate to feed his family of six. Hikmah was earning daily wage as a freelance diagnostics specialist in mechanic shops serving luxury cars. With the lockdown and all shops shut, his income plummeted. With savings fast depleting, he was getting increasingly frantic on how his family will manage in the days and weeks to come.
We met a group of young Yemenis who lost their jobs, exhausted their savings and are out on the streets stranded. Thanks to a generous Omani (and my husband’s quick negotiation skills) they now have a roof over their heads and enjoying a month’s free rent.
It is not lost on us that we are recipients of one of the greatest acts of sacrifice our parents or grandparents made many years ago. As I continue on this humbling journey of benevolence, I am reminded each day of the importance of family and the sacrifices you’d make for the ones you love.
* not their real names