On Tuesday, November 5th, 2019, RISE Team and I had the pleasure of attending Rula's Lecture Me talk, entitled "Grandmothers Behind The Scenes".
Dr. Kahil opened the discussion with a brief overview of her academic trajectory and her role on Rise Team. She then discussed how her interest in Syrian refugee mothers and grandmothers stems from her experiences and identity as a mother, (grand)daughter, and immigrant. Importantly, Dr. Kahil's interest in Syrian refuge grandmothers was sparked by how understudied this group is, despite their roles as kinkeepers and how essential they are to the resettlement process. Throughout the presentation, Dr. Kahil explored the role of grandmothers in the emotional resettlement and adjustment of Syrian refugee mothers and children.
Dr. Kahil presented a captivating case study that explored the life of Tayze, a Syrian refugee grandmother, who, in many ways, exemplifies the resilience of refugee (grand)mothers. When Tayze's home in Syria was bombed, she sought refuge in Turkey. However, when she heard that her mother in Syria had broken her back and pelvis and needed care, she knew she had to do something. That's when Tayze decided to smuggle her mother across the Syrian border and into Turkey. At first, she carried her mother on her back but that didn't work. She didn't give up. She then tried, a number of times, to pull her mother on the mattress across the border but that too did not work. Determined to get her mother across the border, Tayze tried again. This time, an officer at the border made her an offer: pull the string of the mattress with your teeth and we will allow you both to pass. Tayze agreed and six of her teeth fell right there. She persevered and succeeded in her mission to get her mother to safety and medical care. Tayze, a cancer survivor, remains resilient to this day. She lives in Canada with her mother, daughter (and her husband), and grandchildren. She inspires her daughter to learn English and to be hopeful for the future. She continues to advocate for her family members abroad, including her son who was unable to come to Canada. As Dr. Kahil said, Tayze is a woman with a mission. She remains hopeful for her future in Canada and hopes to learn English and open a grocery store in the future!
During the question and answer period, Dr. Kahil was asked about the role of social media and the internet in the lives of Syrian refugees. She believes that apps like WhatsApp help sustain family ties across borders and can ease resettlement in a foreign country with limited social networks. She did, however, discuss how differences in time zones can hinder communication. Another attendee inquired about the purpose and benefits of conducting this research. Dr Kahil and Dr. Neda Maghbouleh, the principal investigator on Rise Team, discussed how refugees, and especially Syrian refugees, are understudied and how scholars have collapsed refugee and immigrant categories, thereby ignoring their unique needs and experiences. Dr. Kahil, and Rise Team member Laila, also touched on how they, along with other members on the research team, have helped participants with translation, homework, and legal matters. The goal of this study, according to Dr. Kahil, is to highlight the needs of the community, how they are faring in Canadian society, and to develop policy recommendations to smoothen the resettlement process. Equally important, the aim of this study is to convey an empathetic understanding of Syrian refugee (grand)mothers, showcase their resilience/autonomy/agency, and their ability to adapt.
RISE Team and I are extremely proud of Dr. Kahil! Her presentation was outstanding and we look forward to hearing more about her research in the near future!