Written by: Benedetta Amici
Edited by: Sinead O’Ferrall
I am sure that everybody is now familiar with the image of the three years old Syrian boy drown on the Turkish coastline. Aylan’s tragedy has been upsetting the newspapers’ front pages during the last week, raising indignation all around the world. When I heard about Aylan’s story, my thoughts immediately went back to the many Syrian children I have met while volunteering in Turkey, whose lives have been brutally distressed by the harsh conflict. As we already know, children are always the first victims of war.
My voluntary work took place in Gaziantep, an industrial city in the southeast part of Turkey, only 60 km far from the Syrian border. Although the registers report 220.000 refugees living in Gaziantep, in reality they are estimated to be more than 400.000 (1).
Here, the refugees’ crisis is now part of the ordinary life. During the Ramadan evenings, local citizens are used to sit in the park and enjoy their first meal of the day, while for many other people that same park represents the only place they can call home. Moreover, the tension among the local population is becoming more and more visible: the massive arrival of refugees made the rent prices raise while the salaries have dramatically dropped, causing dissatisfaction and protests.
When the statistics overtake the individuals
As part of a local NGO’s who is dealing with vulnerable children, my job essentially consisted of providing orphans and refugee children with educational and material support. During these activities, I got in contact with many little kids and their touching stories, which we hope have helped turning to a better end.
Here I would like to share these narratives with you, just as a simple reminder that behind those “unprecedented numbers” (a term so loved by the media) there are real people with their individual experiences. Perhaps, by letting their stories speak on my behalf, my message will go beyond the pure information and stimulate some empathy.
Mohammed is a 4 year old boy living in an orphanage in Gaziantep. The staff members said that when he was brought there, he was covered with blood. We can still see the marks of the war on his little body, carved with scars from the bottom to the top. Just the sound of the word “Syria” is enough to upset him, he starts screaming and running everywhere and it takes a while to calm him down.
When I first saw Hadija, her deep blue eyes and her beautiful smile immediately struck me. But as I got close to her I realized that there was something different. She is deaf. While she was still in Syria, a bomb was dropped close to her, and since then she cannot hear anymore. Her hearing is not the only thing she has lost; her sister and grandmother died in the same attack. A surgery intervention could give her hearing back and change her life, as she could learn how to speak and get an education. The excessive cost of that is unfortunate , considering that her family struggles everyday to get the basic necessities to survive.
I met Farrah during our pre-school activities specifically designed for Syrian kids. One of my colleagues tells me how naughty and hyperactive she used to be; then her family’s economic situation changed and she suddenly turned to by silent and introverted.he began to beg from us.
The story of thousand voiceless children:
Many other kids have crossed my life during my stay in Gaziantep, but unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to get to know their stories. Many children in dirty clothes, carrying huge bags, four times their size under the burning sun, foraging inside the trash containers and collecting plastic bottles that they can sell for a small bit of money; children begging on the street and sleeping in open parks, earning their life little by little, every day.
Building a new generation
But unlike Aylan’s tragic destiny, these stories will hopefully turn towards a happy ending. Despite the local community’s unrest, there is still an important number of motivated people that works hard to bring some relief to the refugee population. Many local NGOs are running different projects and initiatives in order to rescue and give a future to this generation, as the one I was working for. Everyday, with its goodwill and enthusiasm, the local and international staff gives its contribution; thanks to its work and effort, they are bringing small changes in small lives.
Now Mohammed knows that there are people caring about him, people that come everyday to his orphanage to play and teach him English. He is also aware of his different nationality, but together with his mates, he has been educated about the fact that human beings are all the same and need to be treated equally, despite their Arab, Kurdish or Turkish origin.
Hadija’s family is now receiving constant economical support. They know that they are not alone, that there are people coming every week to bring them food and clothes and trying to get some contacts or funding for her operation. Maybe in the future, Hadija will be able to get that surgical intervention that will change her life.
Farrah’s is surrounded by a group of volunteers that provides her with affection and psychological support. They encourage her to participate in all the activities and stimulate her toward a positive attitude, while working on a way to support her family with an economical contribution.
However, the short list of happy stories ends here. There is still so much to do for all those “voiceless children” left on the street and all the refugees living outside the camps. But as long as there are motivated volunteers willing to dedicate their own voice to Syria’s silent voices and use their time to bring a smile on people’s faces, all is not lost.
A special thanks goes to all my motivated local and international colleagues, which have inspired me with their work and dedication.
(1) ORSAM Report No: 195, Effects on the Syrian refugees on Turkey, January 2015