The Wedding Dress of Azraq Refugee Camp

How one woman's wedding dress has made a difference in the lives of many Syrian refugee women

In 2015, Rawan Marzouk’s home in Syria was bombed. The 15-year-old’s family fled for Jordan by car, ultimately ending up in Azraq Refugee Camp. For more than three years Rawan and her family have tried to rebuild what they could of their lives, including holding a wedding for Rawan, now 19.

“I was dreaming of my wedding at my home [in Syria] with my aunts and relatives gathered in a hall,” Rawan says. But with a civil war raging at home and her family displaced across Syria and Jordan, it appeared there would be no celebratory gathering, and certainly no white wedding dress.

~40,000

Syrian refugees live in Azraq Camp

Amid the earthy tones of the desert surrounding Azraq camp, where about 40,000 Syrian refugees live, colors can be especially impactful. Ruba Mubarak, 29, volunteered at the CARE-managed daycare in Azraq. She noticed weddings happening, but many brides without white wedding dresses. To her, this was heartbreaking, so she donated her personal wedding dress.

“I did not imagine that people would marry here,” she says. “I met brides who wore red or blue dresses. I got my wedding dress from Syria. I thought I should give it back to Syria.”

Rawan Marzouk lives in Azraq Camp in Jordan. Photo: Raegan Hodge/CARE
Ruba Mubarak donated her personal wedding dress to brides in Azraq Camp. Photo: Raegan Hodge/CARE

Ruba tried on more than 100 dresses in Jordan and Syria before settling on a jeweled ballgown for her own wedding. Layers of cascading white fabric form a full skirt. Sequins, pearls and sparkling stones adorn the backless bodice.

“The moment I tried on the dress I thought ‘this is the one,’ and bought it immediately,” Ruba says. “I wanted to keep it for myself forever, I never imagined that I would give it away.”

The dress has since been passed from bride to bride at Azraq, including Rawan.

“I did not imagine that people would marry here.”

“It is a dream for a girl to wear a wedding dress and see herself with it in front of her parents,” Rawan says. “If not for CARE’s dress, I wouldn’t have been able to wear white in my wedding.”

Khaldeya, 35, left Syria to escape “chaos and war.” As her wedding approached last summer, she also learned about Ruba’s dress. “As a little girl I dreamed of a big wedding with music and dancing,” she says. “I would have cried if I had married without a wedding dress. … My wedding here was even better than I imagined. There was singing and dancing and fireworks!”

The white dress hangs in a glass case in CARE’s community center, a reminder of what’s possible.

“People here wanted to continue their lives, but they had some challenges in everything they wanted to do,” Ruba says. “The wedding dress is a start, a start for a new life.”

Additional filming by Raegan Hodge; Video edited by Brooks Lee.

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