This Is What Syrian Refugee Girls Want to Be When They Grow Up

“The moment I love most in my daily life as a doctor is when I arrive at the clinic and see rows of patients waiting to see me. To know that people trust me and that there are so many I may be able to help makes me feel like nothing else — it makes me feel so hopeful.” Meet Nebal. She runs her own clinic in Jordan, helps refugees and attends to patients in conflicted areas. She’s also 13.
Nebal is one of the many adolescent girls fleeing Syria whose lives are often shadowed by exploitation, abuse and violence in the region. Access to healthcare and education is rare and harassment means spending long hours indoors. Yet these girls continue to dream.
Vision Not Victim, a project run by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), selected a group of Syrian girls in Jordan and gave them an opportunity to bring their dreams to life. Each of the girls visualized their future careers and then drafted, planned and participated in photoshoots featuring themselves as having achieved their goals.
Nebal chose to be a doctor while others chose careers ranging from piloting and fashion designing to serving in law enforcement. The IRC handed them the reigns as they navigated their future through the lens.

Haga, Age 12

“Ever since we studied the solar system in primary school, I have wanted to be an astronaut. I would imagine myself up in the sky discovering new things. I love being an astronaut because it lets me see the world from a new angle. In this society my path was not easy — many people told me a girl can’t become an astronaut. Now that I have achieved my goals, I would tell young girls with aspirations to not be afraid, to talk to their parents about what they want and why, to always be confident and know where you want to go.”

Hiba, Age 9

“I have always wanted to help children, and this is what drove me to be a pediatrician. I am kind and loving, and therefore an excellent doctor that children can trust.”

Malack, Age 16

“I’ve always wanted to be a policewoman because the police not only keep people safe, but they also create justice in society. Every day I wake up, go to the station, and then head out into the city to see where I can help. I also work to inspire other young girls to become policewomen — supporting them to dream about their future and thinking about how they will overcome obstacles.”

Muntaha, Age 12

“Since I was a young girl, I loved taking people’s photographs. I loved going to different events and documenting what was happening — both the good and bad. Now, as a professional photographer I use my images to inspire hope in others — to encourage love and understanding.”

Rama, Age 13

“Walking down the street as a young girl in Syria or Jordan, I encountered many people suffering — sick or injured — and I always wanted to have the power and skills to help them. Now, as a great physician in my community, I have that ability. Easing someone’s pain is the most rewarding aspect of my job. To be able to give them relief and make them smile — this is what I love most.”

Sarah, Age 15

“In the future I am a famous fashion designer — creating chic clothing for women that makes them feel elegant. I design normal daywear that combines rough and soft fabrics, as well as formalwear and wedding dresses. I love fashion because it is a way for everyone to express themselves, and when it is done right — your clothing should make you feel special, beautiful, and confident.”

Wissam, Age 15

“Our neighbor in Syria had a pharmacy — and when I was younger I would go next door and help. As the war started, I watched this pharmacist help the injured. When I saw this I knew that this was an important job and what I wanted to do. Now that I am a pharmacist, I see myself as a role model for girls and a leader changing the world.”

The photos featured adolescents ranging from ages 9 to 17. One girl examines a chest X-ray, wearing a stethoscope and resolute expression. Another stands upright with pride as she wears a lawyer’s coat and fulfills her vision of defending women subject to domestic violence.
The program offered each girl more than a four by six visual printout of their dreams; it handed them and their families a tangible hope for change. Envisioning young Syrian girls in professional settings challenges stereotypes, rekindles the dying flames of ambition and introduces a new dialogue where politics and society is not restrictive and these young girls are no longer their captives.
For these Syrian girls — and the other beneficiaries of IRC’s work — the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” has never been more real.

Written by Naaz Modan.
Edited and with contribution by Shanzay Farzan.
Images from IRC’s Vision Not Victim