Muntaha lives in Switzerland. This is a translation of the transcript of her recorded story:
"I am Muntaha from Homs, a city that witnessed the Syrian uprising since its began in 2011. This uprising changed in shape and became a civil war that burned everything, and destroyed souls, memories and dreams. Five years of war were enough for me to feel that my homeland was dying.
Homeland is not where you were born, it's a sense, it is where you have mutual understanding with people. It was clear that there was no hope in [Syria becoming] a country governed by law away from the military or from religion, so under great pressure I left for Europe with my young daughter.
My destination was Europe and I ended up in Switzerland, my current place of residence, so this is how my journey started.
Of course, it was never easy but my English helped me to communicate with people, so I started building social relations with my teachers who taught us German. It was a great opportunity.
I did succeed in communicating with them because I talked with them. People always fear the unknown and fear what they do not understand and do not know but the language helped me start to form social relations with them and I do think I succeeded with my teachers.
It was clear to me from the beginning that this was a great opportunity. Through my relationship with my teachers, I was able to introduce myself and express myself so that the fear disappeared and I made the first social steps. Little by little, I was able to show them that I wanted to learn and work in the future. I remember that I told this to my teacher and she admired it very much, especially when I said that I felt that I was in a race against time as I was not as young and I wanted to learn the language to find work that was right for me after all the suffering I had been through due to losing everything in my country.
I wanted to live a new life as good as it could be. This was my first social step, and the teachers helped me contact a neighbour's friend. This friend also contributed to supporting my social life here and opened up new opportunities. In the new place that I moved to, I searched for a social network that helps immigrants to integrate. They tell you things you need to know about Switzerland and show you the way. Through them I learned about many programs that I participated in and activities including social activities and some work opportunities.
I did three months of voluntary work with people with special needs and it was as helpful to me as it was to the people I helped. I tried to come out of my shell and start to learn about the work system here in this country and how life works.
I left a positive impression on the people I worked with. I have ambition and a desire to work, and they supported me with language courses and activities, and helped me look for a house when I needed one. They helped me move into my new house and bought some essentials that I didn’t know I needed. This social network I tried to establish was really helpful to me and made me feel that I belong.
The people and faces I see now three years later smile at me as if they are giving me a home. They give me a small homeland that lives in my heart, in the genuine smile of a person who crosses my path. When someone asks me to go for coffee at their house, I know they are serious with their offer. When they say they want to help, they are serious about helping.
There is no embarrassment here. When they don’t want something, they really don’t want it. That gave me comfort and clarity. I know that I do not burden them, and I know where my boundaries are, and this is something I very much love.
I also found work through this social network, through my daughter's friend's mother. She became my friend and I met my employer through her and submitted my CV. I am working now. I am self-employed. I am financially independent and also support my daughters and pay taxes. I do not receive any social aid. This is certainly something local people admire - they like to see that someone is with them, not a burden on them.
I can really say that people supported me and I am forever thankful to these people who are active in the social services and humanitarian institutions here, because they really supported me every step of the way. You can find good people wherever you go if you really want to live a new life in a new society.
I can say quite clearly that my relationship with my neighbours, my teachers and my colleagues in the office has a huge impact on reinforcing my integration and development here. I mean, when you meet someone you can easily meet someone else through them. So this was a way to expand the scope of this small nation that I built in my heart. I really feel that I am part of society here in Switzerland. I could say that I am a person who belongs to this society."