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At summer camp, Syrian child refugees recall a lost homeland

At the Syrian refugee educational camp. (photo: Aziz Abu Sarah)

SYRIA-TURKEY BORDER – Last week, my colleagues and I started a summer camp for hundreds of Syrian child refugees on the Syrian-Turkish border. While pundits and self-proclaimed “experts” are debating what to do in Syria, or whether the US should strike or not, we decided to act rather than talk. After all, over a 100,000 people have been killed and millions have been left displaced. Whether the US bombs Assad or not is not in my control, but being active to help those in need is.

For the past few weeks we started fundraising for educational camps for Syrian children, which make up nearly almost half of all Syrian refugees. Some of those we met do not attend school, either because they don’t have books or have yet to gain refugee status, while others are extremely poor and devastated. Most of the children I talked to have lost a family member in the ongoing conflict.

These children do not talk like children anymore. They have lost one of the most valuable things children have: innocence. They talk about loss of homes, family members and dangerous situations as if it were a normal thing. Perhaps the most worrying thing is the uncertainty of what could become of this generation without serious intervention.

Two sisters I spoke to, Amneh (11) and Arwa (8), told me about their life. Amneh told me about her fear of the sound of airplanes, even while in Turkey. Her younger sister quickly interrupted and said, “I am not afraid.” Amneh told me that her younger sister would comfort her and hold her hand when during air strikes. When I asked Arwa, why wasn’t she afraid, she responded “What is the worse thing that can happen? I die? It is better than this life even without knowing whether I will go to heaven or hell.”

Amneh also told me about how she was shot at while bicycling around her home. She is traumatized and is unlikely to receive help. Most help is focused on humanitarian aid, which is still way below the actual need. Very few people focus on addressing the effects that the ongoing killing have on these children.

Finally, both girls told me that they miss Syria and they want to go back home. Amneh added that she feels guilty having fun at our summer camp, knowing that many other kids are suffering in Syria and refugee camps.

These are the stories that we need to remember when we argue about Syria. These are the people paying the heavy price. When we pass by a news item about Syria, we must remember the millions of children that could become another lost generation without our willingness to engage and help. I am not talking about political views and arguments – I am talking about find the compassion in our hearts and searching for ways to help. I found what I could do, and I will be back to Turkey, Jordan, and Syria.

Opening our hearts and finding compassion must come before any discussion on military intervention.

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    1. ayla

      thank you so much, Aziz, for paving and sharing the way.

      Reply to Comment
    2. ‘When I asked Arwa, why wasn’t she afraid, she responded “What is the worse thing that can happen? I die? It is better than this life even without knowing whether I will go to heaven or hell.”’ : I cannot comprehend an 8 year old saying this. Transmitting this is part of the service you provide.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Cate

      Ya Aziz – love the article and what you are doing. Shokran Ktir for making such an important point about shattered young lives.

      Reply to Comment
    4. XYZ

      The tragedy these young children have suffered is not some sort of natural disaster. This happened because a lot of despicable people have decided that, in order to advance their own selfish political interests, have decided civilians like these children are expendable. This war in Syria is also being cheereed on by partisan outside observers, mostly their Arab brothers who are supporters of one side or another, without any seeming consideration of the human price being paid. One of the columnists here wrote about a “Nakba Day” commemoration where he noted that supporters of one side or the other in the Syria war almost got into fist fights with each other. If the Arab public doesn’t care about the human tragedy. Is it any wonder that the US, Britain and Europe are reluctant to take any action if Syria’s Arab brothers seem so indifferent to what is going on?

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