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A Place of Peace: Summer Camp for Syrian Refugee Children

Photo courtesy of Aziz Abu Sarah.

Craft time at the camp. Photo courtesy of 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. Eight volunteers from Beirut, London, Jaddeh, Toronto, Cairo, Washington D.C and a few Syrian volunteers who live in Turkey spent 10 days at the border area between Syria and Turkey. 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.

rope

The girls take on the boys in a game of tug-of-war. Photo courtesy of Aziz Abu Sarah.

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.

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.” 

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.

Photo courtesy of Aziz Abu Sarah.

A little Syrian boy kicks around a soccer ball. Photo courtesy of Aziz Abu Sarah.

building syria

The children build models of Syria. Photo courtesy of Aziz Abu Sarah.

Photo courtesy of Aziz Abu Sarah.

Peace. Photo courtesy of Aziz Abu Sarah.

Photo courtesy of Aziz Abu Sarah.

Despite a nation under fire, these children still find moments of laughter. Photo courtesy of Aziz Abu Sarah.

Comments

  1. mebarkia
    algeria
    December 25, 2013, 9:01 am

    hello my name is Mebarkia seif eddine i am from algeria i would like to help syrian i refugee camps
    i am a native arabic speaker and my major is english
    (teacher of ENG)
    ireally want to help

  2. Michelle, Aziz's assistant
    United States
    December 24, 2013, 1:08 am

    Hi everyone, Aziz appreciates your messages of support, and we will be happy to speak with each of you regarding your desire to become involved in the educational camps for Syrian refugee children. You can email the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution (CRDC) at crdc@gmu.edu and read more about our upcoming camps at this link: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/empower-syria-s-refugees-project-amal-ou-salam

    Hope to hear from all of you soon!

    Best,
    Michelle

  3. Dina Kapen
    United States
    December 16, 2013, 9:38 pm

    Hi Aziz,

    I have been truly inspired by your story and was hoping to ask you if you are organizing the camp again this summer? The reason I ask is because my school provides funding for such humanitarian projects and I would be interested to either collaborate or hear of any advice you might have in organizing an educational summer camp there. Please let me know if you get the chance. Thank you for your activism.

    Best,
    Dina

  4. Ariana Gould
    New York, New York
    November 12, 2013, 1:35 pm

    Aziz,
    This is an incredible and very meaningful project. An entire generation of Syrian children have been deeply effected by this enduring conflict. I have worked with children for most of my life and would love to help in any way possible. I currently lead a tutoring project, and have worked at summer camps and teaching children at ski resorts. I have spent time in Jordan and have spoken with Syrian refugees. I will be back in Jordan in January to continue studies in Arabic. Please let me know if I can be of assistance in any capacity.

    -Ariana
    Argould8191@gmail.com

  5. Taylor Brown
    Seattle
    October 18, 2013, 12:59 am

    Aziz, I am planning on working at a waldorf kindergarten in Istanbul this spring, dates are not set and flexible. This would be my first priority if you would have me anytime March, April, May or June. I feel strongly this is something I can do, and that I can be an asset to your team in any way you need me to be. Please email me for my information if you think I can get involved.

  6. Taylor Brown
    Seattle
    October 18, 2013, 12:54 am

    Aziz, I am planning on working at a waldorf kindergarten in Istanbul this spring, dates are not set and flexible. This would be my first priority if you would have me anytime March, April, May or June. I feel strongly this is something I can do, and that I can be an asset to your team in any way you need me to be. Please email me for my information if you think I can get involved.
    taylornabrown@gmail.com

  7. Munirah
    Montreal, QC
    October 2, 2013, 5:39 pm

    I am a qualified childcare worker and teacher. i would love to come and volunteer with any more efforts being made. I worked in 2007 with lebanese, Syrian and Iranian children in Damascus during the Lebanese war. I would welcome the opportunity and perhaps could suggest resources that childcare action groups could provide to help….

  8. Denny Darby
    Phoenix, Arizona
    October 1, 2013, 12:19 pm

    Aziz,
    My daughter and I are starting a campaign at her school for parents/students/teachers etc. to donate gently used shoes for Syrian refugees. We will also raise money for the shipping, but don’t know how to get the shoes to a particular camp. Could you take the shoes? Or, can you point me in the right direction of a person or agency who can?

    You are an inspiration! God bless.

  9. Kimberly Cavender
    istanbul
    September 30, 2013, 2:13 pm

    I am an English teacher in Istanbul and am looking for opportunities to help. I’m healthy, 54, woman with a lot of experience teaching and living with children. I have a break coming up shortly and can help quickly.

  10. Albina
    New York, USA
    September 24, 2013, 7:00 pm

    Assalamu aleikum! I am willing to help for you! speak russian, tatar (similar to turkish), english..was looking for such opportunity, can stay for months…
    Best regards.

  11. joe fannin
    turkey
    September 21, 2013, 1:59 am

    hi, i am from ireland, spent last winter in istanbul, will be in turkey soon, can i help, i have building skills, and managment,, let me know,, i can stay for months,,
    joe

  12. jason
    United Kingdom
    September 17, 2013, 12:57 pm

    Hi Aziz.
    iam a 47 year old healthy man with in the field of EFT (emotional freedom tapping) This is a fast growing self help technique which has helped thousands of people and is very effective with trauma cases.i would love to help and have free time. thanks

  13. Paula Morrison
    South Africa
    September 12, 2013, 8:57 am

    Hi Aziz, I forgot to add my details….also wanted to say that I can send you names of references including people with whom I have worked in National Conservation Agencies (SANP & EKZNW), NGO’s, WWF-SA, WESSA (Wildlife and Environment Society of Southern Africa), Rhodes University (Chair of Environmental Education). I am really passionate about humanitarian work with children especially when there is an environmental bias.
    Paula Morrison
    morrison@telkomsa.net
    27-832320890

  14. Paula Morrison
    South Africa
    September 12, 2013, 4:19 am

    Hi Aziz, I would like to volunteer to help you. I have been desperate to find a way to offer my skills and experience to an organisation helping Syrian children. I have a Masters Degree in Environmental Education and many years experience working as both a practitioner and team manager with communities in conflict areas in South Africa. I am also a professional artist and have done art therapy for children in conflict zones. I have been to Turkey many times, speak basic Turkish and have a family in Turkey. I can raise money to purchase art equipment for the children. I am happy to provide you with my resume, or we could talk on skype and I shall be in Istanbul shortly if you require an interview. Thankyou so much.

  15. Pete
    Turkey
    September 11, 2013, 2:45 pm

    My girlfriend and I are traveling in turkey and would love to help in your camp. We are Americans, in our twenties and able bodied and mind. If there is any need for labor, teaching, what ever, we could come for a week or month depending.

  16. Elizabeth Olson
    Nashville, TN
    September 11, 2013, 9:13 am

    I would like to come over and help for however long, is that possible?

  17. Loay Ibrahim Sperinck
    Bahrain
    September 10, 2013, 9:24 pm

    Just like Glen I am on a gap year just before my final year of university. Looking at the photos of the kids my heart softened. I am looking to take a month or 2 or 3 to help these kids. I speak English and Arabic. I have strong technical skills and could help with expanding awareness through social media and blogging sites. Please get back to my on my email – l.sperinck@gmail.com.

  18. glen
    wales . uk
    September 6, 2013, 6:40 pm

    I am desperatley trying to search how to give up a month, 2, 3 months to come out to the refugee camps and assist in the relief in whatever capacity i can. i am an architect and may be able to help with accommodation, living etc. please let me know if there is anybody i can contact to come over and help.

    Glen Michael Thomas
    +44 07711 383313
    glenmthomas@gmail.com

  19. Annamarie Franken
    Turkey
    September 6, 2013, 4:38 am

    We are a team of 11, currently in Turkey. Will it be possible to join or follow up on the camps you did with the children?

  20. Dale Fox
    Istanbul Turkey
    September 4, 2013, 3:44 pm

    I am a healthy and hardy 58 year old American woman living in Istanbul with time on my hands. Speak some very basic Turkish and French, but no Arabic. Do you think I could be of use as a volunteer?

  21. Kristin Shoemaker
    Minneapolis, Minnesota
    August 31, 2013, 10:43 pm

    Aziz,
    Your compassion is inspiring, and I am stirred by your statement: “Whether the US bombs Assad or not is not in my control, but being active to help those in need is.” From my distant vantage point in suburban Minnesota I have been searching for ways to do something, but beyond giving financially, I am not seeing obvious ways of contributing.