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A safe space

By Caitlin Diebler

Published on 03.06.2019 at 06:58:13s


For over three years our doors have welcomed hundreds of refugee children. Some never having held a pencil before, we introduced the children to Turkish language, literacy and basic skills. We now see them enrolled in local schools, reading and writing their way to a brighter future. We see our former students in the neighborhood, proudly wearing their school uniforms. Many of these grade school children have younger siblings in our program. They drop in frequently to visit us, get help on homework, or to replenish their school supplies. Sporting her yellow polo shirt with the school’s embroidered logo on the pocket, Ayse paid us a visit. She ran up the stairs, steps she had climbed many times before, and greeted our volunteers with warm hugs and a confident smile. As Ayse’s small hands wrapped around the necks of her former teachers, a wave of confirmation flooded our hearts. This Community Center is working. Each day our center opens to a stable learning environment, a safe play zone and a warm meal, allowing refugee children to release their memories of bombings and violence. Embracing a worldview beyond the war takes time and love, but we are seeing the children of our community center thriving. More than half of all Syrians have been forced to flee their country. Over the past seven years of war, millions have escaped, seeking safety over neighboring borders. But millions of other Syrians continue to endure violence, captured inside besieged communities. Last summer, two Syrian sisters and their mother walked through our big green doors. Their family was liberated from a city of siege merely weeks ago. To them, Turkish words sounded like clamor, and local streets appeared as an unsolvable puzzle. Lara and Aleen sat among other students on the benches of our small classroom. They had one eye on the teacher leading the Turkish rhymes and the other eye on their mother sitting on a chair in the hallway. Their mother knows how damaging even a tiny gap in education can be, so she sat in close proximity, knowing this is the only way her daughters would participate in the program. As the week progressed, Lara began to open up; she was already counting to ten in Turkish. Aleen stayed skeptical. Art class is eagerly anticipated at Yusra. The children love to create and have found a way to relieve stress through participating in our art therapy courses. The art therapist led the students in a project that allowed them to color freely. Most of our students jump at the opportunity to use every colored pencil the school owns, thrilled at the vibrancy they can create. Aleen chose to draw in black. Colored pencil containers surrounded her desk but Aleen left them untouched, making a silent declaration of how she saw the world; harsh lines, rigid shapes and colorless. When playtime began upstairs after the Turkish vocabulary club concluded on our first floor, the children climbed up the stairs, but Aleen hopped into the arms of her mother sitting in the hallway. The first few days Aleen was with us, the second floor was too far to venture. We lovingly beckoned her to join, but affirmed the situation Aleen was currently comfortable with, her mother’s lap. Play time became even more exciting when a generous donor gifted us with a small tent from IKEA. This 130x80cm makeshift abode generated giggles for many afternoons. When Aleen ascended into our playroom for the first time, her meek demeanor did not dissipate. A blank stare remained on her face as the other students strummed tiny guitars, and her voice remained silent when a peer asked for her order from the toy kitchen. One of our youngest students ushered Aleen into the play tent. The girls had set up plastic chairs and a dollhouse inside the fabric walls. Magically, the tent’s flap door opened up into Aleen’s personal Narnia. A game of house spawned tiny voices coming from the tent, one being Aleen’s. By the end of play time, her delicate voice turned into a bellowing giggle. It was as though the tent granted her internal wishes of safety and freedom. This is why we do what we do. For Aleen, and all the children who walk through our doors to experience safety, freedom, ease and comfort again; to learn, to play and to simply be who they are, children.

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