“It’s like holding a diamond in my hands,” says Yusra Ali Saif Salem as she holds a basketball. She hasn’t played her favourite sport for more than 30 years since she was a little girl in Yemen.
She remembered how in her homeland, women are subjugated. For instance, girls aren’t allowed to play any games. Whereas in her adopted country, Malaysia, Yusra finds more freedom even if she lives as a refugee.
Due to the civil war in Yemen and personal circumstances, Yusra had to leave in 2014. Bringing her then seven-year-old son, she moved to Kuala Lumpur using her savings into an unknown future.
When she first moved, she found that refugees cannot work legally. The devoted mother struggled to make ends meet. Her biggest concern was to provide for her son, Abdul Rahman’s education and needs. So, she started cleaning homes, but even that alone was not enough. She also relied on the kindness of others to survive during lean times.
“I wish to be able to provide all the amenities for my child, for instance, going to a theme park.”
Luckily, a benefactor found that she had trained as a hairdresser and make-up artist back in Yemen. The talents which she had risked from being ostracised by family members turned out to be useful now.
Despite having a limited supply of makeup and access to hairdressing equipment, she established a clientele base. Words about her service spread within the refugee community.
This experience had made her realized the necessity of having employable skills for refugees like her. So, she began conducting workshops for fellow refugee women.
She has worked with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to facilitate refugee programmes, enlisted the help of medical volunteers for infirmed refugees and made her home a refuge for everyone in need.
Yusra believes that life is about sharing. She encourages other refugees to contribute their time and services to help each other.
“I wish all mothers, single mothers, to be brave and a model for every refugee. To be strong so they don’t need to ask anyone for anything.”
For all her resilience, she has given a voice for the refugees, who now recognise her as one of their leaders.
Inspired by her late mother’s generosity, Yusra wishes to continue helping out the refugee community and embrace those who come to her. In turn, she hopes that her son would follow her footsteps.
Watch the story of this inspiring single-mother refugee
This story was first published on Our Better World.