She Speaks We Hear

Bringing women's voices together, unaltered, unadulterated

Women in the Refugee Crisis series – Why do women turn up to volunteer?

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We are extremeley fortunate to platform a three part series focussing on ‘Women in the Refugee Crisis’ by Tazeen Ahmad the founder of Humanity’s Heart , an organisation that was born following a volunteering trip by a small group of people to Calais (The Jungle) in June 2016. Travelling through Calais, Lebanon and Greece, Humanity’s Heart witnesses and shares the experiences of refugees, volunteers, spiritual leaders, politicians and local citizens in what is the biggest challenge the world has faced for over 60 years. The first part in the series reflects on why women turn up to volunteer through a series of short films.

When reflecting on the work of witnessing, sharing and inspiring on the red thread of humanity in the refugee crisis, what came to heart many times during our work, is the role of women. Both refugee women and volunteer women meeting in the relational spaces in the refugee crisis. 

Meeting these women, made me reflect on Mary, the Mother of Jesus and her willingness to surrender to the will of God. It was through her implicit trust in our Source which brought forward the birth of Jesus. They say, “Let the Mary of your body give birth to the Jesus of your soul.” Could this crisis be birthing love and compassion on an epic scale?

Undeniably there have been many male volunteers and their contribution cannot be underestimated 

Although returning from filming, it fascinated me further to learn that in Arabic the names of God “Rahman” (The compassionate) and “Rahim” (The merciful),  the root letters of both R-H-M mean “womb.” It  stirred a deeper  reflection into how the outpouring of the heart towards humanity, hasn’t necessarily been met at an intergovernmental level yet there has been an outpouring of compassion, generosity and love from the hearts of  ordinary people, predominantly women. 

One local volunteer Jeannie Tweed for Elmbridge CAN for example shared: 

“It has been a privilege for me to get to know so many strong women from such different backgrounds to mine. Adjusting to life here is not easy, but their resilience and joyfulness can be humbling. We share limited language but we have connected over food, over children, over my terrible attempts at learning Arabic and my poor dancing, and most of all over humour. About 75% of the volunteers in our team of English teachers, volunteer drivers and general helpers are women. They give their time, their compassion, their understanding and often their professional expertise for no charge because they believe in what we are doing and because they want to make a difference. I have just had a discussion about a job opportunity for one of the refugees with a fellow local Mum while on the school run – women’s networks are amazing.”

So why do women turn up to volunteer?

From Calais, to Greece and into Lebanon, the motivation for volunteer women choosing to turn up varied. For some it was almost as if they were taking a protest vote against the current climate of increased polarization, fear and extremism. 

For others it was the red thread of humanity that simply called their hearts to turn up and serve. 

This flow of compassion sitting in contrast to what official government policies on the crisis have been. 

It’s been exactly this outpouring of humanity from women founded organisations such as Help Refugees, Refuaid, Refugee Action Colchester here in the UK, which witnessed assistance arriving to those displaced by wars. Their contribution is starting to be recognised. Recently Anna Christina Jones  co-founder of Refuaid was listed as one of the forbes 30under30s in their 2019 30under30 in Europe category while  Maria Wily of Refugee Action Colchester  in 2017 won volunteer of the Year for Essex from all her hard and determination assisting Syrian refugees. 

Maria and Iman Mortagy , through their work at Refugee Action Colchester have transformed the lives of many Syrians finding themselves in the coastal town in Essex. Maria Wilby shares how her own experience on entering the country aged 2 was a huge catalyst towards setting up Refugee Action Colchester. She was able to fully empathise with what it’s like to be an outsider.

Together Iman and Maria with Syrian refugees pioneered the Syrian Café at First Site in Colchester, a space bringing together Syrians and the local community through a shared love of food. 

Yet for Iman Mortagy, the reason to turn up and help refugees was more an expression of spiritual activism. 


By Tazeen Ahmad

Taken is founder and producer of Humanity’s Heart. She is a daughter of a migrant, a British Citizen, a mother of two and a believer in the power of humanity. In June 2016, she traveled to Calais. The trip confirmed for her that we have far more in common than which divides us.

It also raised in her a deep curiosity about ‘what motivates others to turn up and serve?’. And ‘what spiritual lessons to humanity are emerging in the largest crisis since WWII?’ It was at that moment, she realised her background in broadcast journalism and finance, fundraising and philanthropy could be put to use. So humanity’s heart was born. She will be running a “How to make a documentary film workshop in June here is the link for the documentary workshop https://www.tazeendhunna.com/media-consultancy/howtomakeadocumentary

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Author: She Speaks We Hear

Bringing women’s voices together, unaltered, unadulterated. Platforming stories and experiences of Muslim women, so they can own their narrative.

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