Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA People: Meet Suha
Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA is about people – people working together to make things better for all. As the global justice organisation of the Australian union movement, each and every APHEDA supporter, member, partner, activist and participant here in Australia and all around the world contributes to the work it takes to tackle inequality and injustice.
Suha El-Yassir was born in Beirut in 1964 as a Palestinian refugee and has spent most of her life living in a refugee camp in the city. Her parents fled from Yaffa (next to modern-day Tel Aviv) during the 1948 war and were never allowed to return to their homes, they still hold the key to their front door and the title deed from the British administration at the time. Suha started working with the Palestinian Women’s Humanitarian Organisation (PWHO) in 1994 and has been integral in building the Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA-funded projects for women and children. Suha manages work in the refugee camps in Beirut supporting both Palestinian and Syrian refugees.
What does it mean to be union to you?
Suha: Being part of something that sees more than just an individual. Listening to a community and prioritising their voice and needs, not making a decision based on your own but bringing people together so that everyone benefits.
What does it mean to be APHEDA to you?
Suha: APHEDA cares for Palestinian women, through our work I have a safe place to work and support my community. APHEDA means support to all refugees, not just Palestinians. APHEDA means support to children and women whom no one else will help. APHEDA makes me proud because of the strong reputation of the project within the camp. APHEDA means listening to us and helping us decide what is best for meeting our own needs
Why do you think it’s important for APHEDA to grow its membership base, those contributing monthly to the work, to 20,000 by 2025?
Suha: It is important for more people to know about how life is for people in places like our camp. We know APHEDA won’t forget us or let people overseas forget us. We do not have a real home, though I was born in this camp and have lived my whole life here I know that my home is somewhere else that I cannot go to, and in this time APHEDA treats us with respect and supports us. A bigger APHEDA means more children getting an education and more women being supported.
What does an average day for you involve?
Suha: I prepare breakfast for my husband and daughters before arriving at work at 7:15am. The teaching staff have a meeting at the start of everyday to plan for the day and ensure we all know what is happening. I have meetings with other organisations in the camp, parents, community leaders and staff depending on what are the issues that day. I visit the different projects in different parts of the camp and make sure that everything is running well. In the afternoon I often spend time doing administration tasks. I sometimes lead tours of visitors from overseas into the camp to explain the situation here and raise awareness about our right of return as Palestinian refugees. In the evenings I often cook for my family or visit relatives and friends to drink tea.
What are some ways APHEDA have helped change the community here?
Suha: APHEDA has always supported us to design our projects to first and foremost support women to work and become independent. By helping women to work we have helped the community value women more and understand that women are not just carers but also leaders. Through the APHEDA women’s empowerment program we connect women to each other and ensure that every woman is aware not just of her rights but how she can support her family and herself in difficult situations. We have also given children the best start to education and through the years we have been supported by APHEDA we know that all those children are in school, doing better and dreaming bigger about what they want to be.
What part of your work are you most connected to/proud of? Why?
Suha: I’m proud to be working with APHEDA because the projects here have helped me build my confidence to become a leader in my community. I have been supported by APHEDA and other women in the camp and now I can help younger women in the camp. APHEDA helped me understand how to support whole communities and not just individuals, how to see our work as changing lives through bringing people together so that they are stronger. I feel proud that I have a job that helps not only my Palestinian refugee community but also our Syrian brothers and sisters.
What do you see as the work (areas, issues, etc.) that is most important for Union Aid Abroad to focus on into the future?
Suha: Human rights, supporting women and children, working with long-term refugees who are often the most vulnerable. Supporting children to access education as a fundamental right – not just because it is better for their job prospects but also because it is a right to be able to think critically and use your brain.
Why would you recommend someone join APHEDA?
Suha: APHEDA works non-politically and without bias in the camp, their aims are the people in the camp – not the factions or religious groups. They listen to us when we raise concerns and bring a lot of experience from other parts of the world that helps us meet the needs in our camp. They believe it is important to deal with root-causes and not just symptoms, they believe in our right to return as refugees and not just our right to receive endless welfare projects. APHEDA believes that together we are better and stronger and we have seen that to be true here in the camps, so why wouldn’t it also be true for ordinary people in Australia who want to make a difference to the world?
Suha lives in Burj el-Barajneh refugee camp in southern Beirut. This was where the idea of creating APHEDA as a solidarity agency of the Australian trade unions was conceived by Palestinian health workers and an Australian nurse, Helen McCue, in 1983. PWHO is Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA’s oldest partner organisation.