According to ACNUR, 70.8 million people around the world have been forced to run away from their homes. Refugees, many of them children and young people, who come to an unknown country in search of a future. Therefore, the efforts carried out by governments and companies to integrate them into society have become essential work.

What’s going on when somebody must run away from home, abandoning his/her environment, his/her life? What’s going on when somebody comes to a strange country without any plan? Difficult or even impossible questions to be answered by most of us. But not for Wafaa Almala. This young refugee had to get immediately out of Syria 6 years ago along with her family, running away from an unsustainable situation that became a war that, as of today, persists.

In 2011, the life of Wafaa’s family, like the lives of millions of people, was terribly altered by the outbreak of a war. Demonstrations, public disorder in some areas… going out of the house or having a normal life was turning into something dangerous: “My parents feared that my brothers and I would suffer something terrible”, she said. That’s why they decided to pack their bags and go to a country where, although having been before and having relatives and friends, we felt like total strangers. At first, we thought that we would stay here for a couple months because “we left with the hope that everything would end, that the war wouldn’t break out and everything would go back to normal”, Wafaa remembers. However, with the beginning of the chemical war in 2013, everything changed and the family decided that, at least for the moment, Spain would be its new home.

Wafaa Almala studied Civil Engineering, but she had a lot of problems validating her degree here in Spain. Therefore, she decided to study something completely new: “I opted for nursing because, after suffering so much in Syria, a feeling of helping people emerged. We were forced to abandon our home because something terrible happened close to us, and the only things we had in our backpacks were gauze, bandages, pills… In my opinion, this is the only way we can help, as the war and the situation don’t depend on us”.

Santander Integra, a door to a new opportunity

She states that the access to university was not easy. Language, the lack of classes for foreigners, no assistance nor training about the steps to be taken… were the main obstacles: “In the end, the deadlines expired, I had to pass the entrance examination… There was a total lack of information”. After insisting a lot and thanks to a volunteer of ACNUR that accompanied her in the searching, she was granted a scholarship by the Universidad Camilo José Cela.

Photo: Wafaa Almala, from Damascus. Credit: Opinno.

Once there, she found out about the scholarships Santander Integra, thanks to which she rewrote her future and built a new life far away from war. This program boosted by Banco Santander through Santander Universidades, intends to complement the university education of students from countries of war by helping them get closer to the Spanish professional field and facilitate their professional inclusion.

This initiative reflects the commitment of Banco Santander to vulnerable groups and people at risk of exclusion, in this case, young university students who are war refugees who seek an opportunity to take up their studies and show their talent. A collective which takes part in the 70.8 million people around the world forced to run away from their home, according to data facilitated by ACNUR.

For Wafaa Almala, aside from the economic aid of 600 euros, the best part of participating in this program has been to know personally the Spanish labor system and “contribute to breaking down the stereotypes that foreigners or refugees cannot get important positions or work in the main companies. In this case, Banco Santander has shown that everyone can get the same opportunities”.

The entity presided over by Ana Botín offered this young refugee a two month internship in the Medical Center of the Santander España HQ. A period during which Wafaa has met many employees of Santander “with whom I confirmed that people only want to live in peace”. Thanks to my relationship with them “we helped each other: I launched the message that anyone can work wherever they want, independently of where they come from or background; meanwhile, she helped the employees to value what they have”.

When asked about her future, Wafaa expresses exuberant hope. Not only because she is sure of wanting to focus her professional career on school nursery or health education in our country but, when we asked her about which message she would transmit to anyone in her situation six years ago, her answer is quite exemplary: “I would say to him/her to never stop, never look back… and especially, be positive, because anyone can have bad and good times but, if we only focus on the bad ones, everything will be negative and we won’t get out of that mindset“.