Emirati Women's Day special: Finding resilience amid human trafficking

On Emirati Women's Day, Noor Al Sayegh reflects on her role as an Emirati psychologist and author, sharing the inspirational stories of strength and resilience she has witnessed in the human trafficking survivors she works with in the UAE

By Noor Abdulla Al Sayegh

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Published: Sun 27 Aug 2023, 1:15 PM

Last updated: Fri 1 Sep 2023, 1:57 PM

We were heading to Terminal 3 to drop them off. I had been waiting for that day just as much as they had. There were two of them. I saw how hurt they had been, especially her. She had been hurting and missing her family for months. She would visit me in my office daily to ask when she would be returning home. I would tell her that it was just a matter of paperwork, and that she would be on her way home soon.

She was longing to hold her three babies back in her arms.

I have invested so much of my time to see her emotionally feel better after what she has been through. Some days, she confessed to me in tears that she had given up on life. She wanted it to be over. I promised her that the day will come when she returns to her hometown to reunite with her husband and three children. I assured her saying “Your time will come, and you will leave. And you know what? I will be taking you to the airport.”

The time had come. We were on our way.

In the car ride, everyone was almost silent. I glanced out the window and watched the trees. Tree after tree after tree. Every tree carried a story of how it grew in the UAE. Some were crooked and bent, nevertheless, still standing no matter the circumstances. They reminded me of the women I met in the shelter.

In my work, I have met women from different nationalities. They all came from different backgrounds and religions. However, they all shared one circumstance in common — they were all victims of human trafficking.

Before I worked in The Abu Dhabi Centre for Sheltering and Humanitarian Care – Ewaa, I dreamt about travelling to these countries. I had read about the issues they faced and watched documentaries about how they struggled. I wanted to get on a plane and lend them a hand. Listen to them. Speak to them. I wanted them to hear my voice, and I wanted them to know they had one too.

Everyone thought it would be difficult for me to find a humanitarian job. I was very selective. People tried to convince me to work anywhere as a start. It did not have to be a humanitarian job. And maybe, just maybe, with time, my dream job would come along. However, I knew with a passion, and the love that drove me to study psychology and human services, that I deserved not to settle for anything but my dream.

Shortly after that, I went to Umrah with my family. As I walked around the Kaabah, I watched people get emotional as they prayed for what they longed for. I watched them ask for forgiveness and the resilience to move forward. I tried to reply with an 'ameen' whenever I heard a prayer recited out loud. I appreciated the woman behind me who placed my 'Sheila' properly back on my hair without giving me a remark, as she knew it was too crowded for me to fix it. I loved the brotherhood and sisterhood. I chose to look at the beautiful acts around me.

At that time, I was convinced that I did not want to succeed in man-made tests that will determine my intelligence as a person. I preferred and prayed for success in life tests written by Allah that will determine my humanity.

The next morning, while in a hotel in Makkah, I decided to check my email. I sat on a desk with the Kaabah view in front of me. I watched people walk towards it — the old and the young. I looked back at the screen and found an email from a magazine. I opened the email, and it turned out that the magazine was interested in publishing one of my articles that I sent to them a very long time ago. I almost forgot that I had sent it.

It was my first ever article that got accepted to be published. I was in tears.

When I returned to the UAE, I was encouraged to write more. My writings got published one writing after another. I was overwhelmed with joy.

A few months later, I was interviewed to work at a humanitarian job in the UAE that supports women who are victims of human trafficking.

I was in awe of all the blessings I was receiving.

I thought about my life and my dreams. I thought of myself as a little girl dreaming about growing up and travelling the world to help others.

I was in awe of how Allah listened to my prayers. Not only that he had listened, but also that he had made it easier for me to start my career by making it possible for me to do so without getting on a plane.

Indeed, there is a place in the UAE that shelters women who are victims of violence. Allah had a plan for me as an Emirati woman, before travelling the world to help women, he guided me to the ones that are here in a shelter in the UAE. Women who are thrilled to get on a plane — not to travel the world though, but just to return home.

My name is Noor Al Sayegh. Today, I am an Emirati psychologist and an author that works with human trafficking survivors.

Every day I get dressed to go to a job where I get to meet women who successfully escaped a brutal act of trafficking. I see them when they enter the shelter traumatized by what happened to them, and afraid of the unknown. I sit with them to introduce myself as their psychologist and tell them about the shelter. “This is your temporary home for now. You are safe.”

I ask if they need anything before ending our meeting. One requested for a praying attire and an electronic Misbah.

I am moved when I see tears falling down their eyes when they tell me what they have been through. But I am also amazed by how they rise after their fall and count the days to return to their countries to become, once again, the mothers, daughters, sisters, and bread winners of their family with their heads held high.

The car stopped as we finally reached Abu Dhabi International Airport. The two ladies looked at Abu Dhabi with gratitude one last time before they got out of the car. They whispered a thank you with tearful eyes as they opened the door.

Since I met these women, they were longing for their flight back home. Ironically, on the day of their flight, I noticed some sadness in their eyes. Their love and, most importantly, trust towards the UAE and their people had grown. Their respect for the people who rushed to save their friend who had thrown herself from the 4th floor of a building to escape the traffickers. The ambulance that came within a few minutes to take her to the hospital to make sure that she was looked after. The policemen that investigated her case and reassured her that justice would be served. The social workers, psychologists, security personnel, and staff that made sure that she would stand back on her feet once again, even stronger, so that she would never fall again. And a shelter that felt like a home for her and her fellow sisters who had experienced similar hardships.

It was a difficult goodbye. But I reminded them how much they had wanted this day to come. Especially her. I asked her to kiss her three babies once she arrives back home. I advised her to be with them, support them, educate them. I asked her to spread awareness as much as she could, and to teach them all that she wished she had known.

I am a proud Emirati psychologist and an author that works with human trafficking survivors. Today, I work on using my voice to tell my story, and the story of the women who inspire me every day with their strength and conviction as they hold on to their faith, thanking God for what has happened and hoping for all that is going to be.

Noor Abdulla Al Sayegh is an Emirati author and psychologist who works in Ewa’a shelter for humanitarian care with victims of human trafficking. She also started her own project called “Letters from Noor” where she writes encouraging letters to people in need of emotional support believing in the prophetic saying “A good word is charity.” She aims to help people with her words, in exchange for them to donate to charity. By that, she hopes to create a circle of good deeds.


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