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Qushtapa camp, Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq - In 2013, with the escalating crisis in Syria, 12-year-old Rozhin moved to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq with her family, where she settled in Qushtapa Camp near Erbil.

Born with a congenital disability, Rozhin was reliant on her family to facilitate her routine tasks. Following the death of her mother, both her siblings were married, as was her father. She found herself alone, living with a stepmother who seldom showed her any empathy or understanding. Her life prospects seemed grimmer than ever.

“I was in profound isolation living with my stepmother and siblings,” recalls Rozhin. “It was a rough journey and a sad discovery to realise the prejudices my own family harboured about my disabilities.”

But Rozhin is no stranger to prejudice and discrimination. As a woman with a disability, she is considered among the most vulnerable population segments to a wide array of risks, including gender-based violence. She is also painfully aware of the pre-existing biases that continually impact people with disabilities, particularly in crisis settings.

“The puzzled gazes and looks of pity when people stare at me are discouraging, I have to admit,” she explains. “But I never allowed that to stand in my way. I have always wanted to see what life waited for me beyond my small community and somehow always knew that the right opportunity was coming.”

In her search for that opportunity, Rozhin learned of the UNFPA-supported Safe Space at the camp, which she was advised offers services tailored to the needs of women and girls, including those with disabilities. She was intrigued at the prospect of learning new skills and decided to pay the centre a visit.

“Little did I know that I would find much more than skill-building,” she recalls.

At the centre, Rozhin was introduced to the psychosocial support services available, designed to help women and girls in need to heal, socialise, and respond to the challenges impacting their lives. She first participated in some much-needed wellness sessions, during which she learned new information about her sexual and reproductive health and rights, received support, and participated in several courses such as knitting and hairdressing.

She learned more about herself and got the chance to express herself in new and refreshing ways, which helped her process some of the experiences she had been repressing.

The transformation followed quickly; she began forming new friendships at the centre, which helped cultivate her self-esteem in ways she never expected. Gradually, she was able to overcome her isolation, finding a support network that not only understands the difficulties of living with a disability but also helps people like her to overcome existing limitations and in search of better opportunities.

 “My call to the world, especially people with special needs, is to resist and never give up under any circumstances,” says Rozhin. “My disability is not a burden. In fact, it is a source of strength.”