“I want to feel that I am loved!”

Sitting alone in a corner, Malek* looked sad and scared. He could barely lift his head up to face the passing people. His clothes were all ripped. His nails, hands, teeth, and hair were all damaged.There was a finger missing from his right hand.

Malek is a nine-year-old Palestinian boy brought to the SOS Children’s Villages office in Damascus to be registered in the hopes that this would allow him to begin a new, normal life. He is one of myriad “crisis children” who have lost their parents or were separated from their family due to the war, and who have become victims of homelessness.

Majed

Malek is a nine-year-old Palestinian boy who wants to begin a new, normal life.

“I lived in the Al Yarmouk camp, and there was an area where children used to play,” he recalls. “I used to go there every day with my little brother. The last thing I remember about my mother is when she told me not to be late for my favorite cheese pasta dinner.”

He adds: “That day was sunny and beautiful until a mortar fell among us. I couldn’t find my brother anymore. I hid behind a wall and saw black smoke, blood and human remains. It was the first time in my life that I had seen such things. There was a lot of blood all over my clothes. I thought that it was from other people until I lifted my hand to see that my finger was gone and I was bleeding.

“It was terrifying. The last thing I remember about Al Yarmouk is crawling to the square again and searching for my lost finger among the human remains because I just couldn’t believe that it was gone. All I wished for was to find it and keep it with me until I could find a hospital.” He passed out there at the scene of the mortar shelling.

“Ambulances were not allowed to enter the place,” he continues. “They put all the dead bodies and injured people in a pick-up van and took them to the hospital.”

When Malek came to, the first thing he asked about was his mother and brother, but no one knows exactly what happened to them. “I woke up asking myself questions like:  where will I sleep? How do I eat? Where do I shower? And most importantly, ‘how do I find my family’?

“I left the hospital and found myself in the street. I could tell that it was not in the Al Yarmouk camp anymore. I was in another district called Al Zahira, far away from my home.”

It was a whole new world for Malek – a world of homelessness caused by war. “There were a lot of children like me there,” he adds. “A lot of them had scars. I wondered where they had got them.” Four years of homelessness have forced Majed to sleep under plastic sheets during the last four winters, to sometimes eat from rubbish containers, and to beg people for money, suffering the humiliation of indifference.

He stopped searching for his family about a year after he was injured, believing that everybody in Al Yarmouk was dead. “It’s impossible to think that they’re alive after four years,” he says. “There have been a lot of massacres, sieges, and armed clashes.” After he stopped searching for his family, Majed decided to search for an orphanage because he couldn’t take the homelessness anymore. Finally, he ended up in one of SOS Children’s Villages temporary child-care centres for children who have become separated from their parents because of the conflict. He wants to go to school, which is impossible while living on the street.

“I am sad when I see children going to school,” he says.  “I was supposed to start going to school after the summer of the year I got injured. I’ve never been to a school before and this is what I’m looking forward to be doing now that I with SOS.” He wants to be either a painter or a doctor. He remembers his father saying:  “Never give up on your education.”

Malek is one of hundreds of thousands Syrian children whose lives and dreams have been stolen because of the war. As he sits in the bus headed to the temporary child-care centre, Malek says: “I’m tired of my life. I don’t want to think about where to eat or sleep. I want to have some time to think of who I want to be in the future. I want to have time to study, play and paint. I want to make everybody around love me instead of mocking me or shouting in my face. I want to feel that I am loved and appreciated.”

SOS temporary child care centers provide care, education, and psychosocial support to unaccompanied and separated children who have lost one or both parents due to the war or have been forced to be separated from their families.

The Al Saboura temporary Care Center is currently providing support to 94 children, helping them to get back to the normal life they lost due to the war in Syria. 

*name changed for privacy reasons

An apple and some kisses

One waked up under the sky of a city where the light of the sun tries so hard to fade out the pitch darkness of the night, and the remnants of black smoke carrying the fear of children who cried or might have even died before having the chance to see the light of day. Everybody prays for the one hour of electricity per day to be somewhere they can use it to get some of their work done.

rama

Rama sells sweats on the streets. She wished she could go to school like she did before.

Public transportation is not as crowded as they it to be anymore and almost every bus carries someone wounded asking the bus to stop in front of the biggest functioning public hospital in the city, the university hospital. The middle of the day is always something you wait for carefully listening to the sound of ambulance filling the city, and hoping that the daily share of mortars won’t get to hurt a family member, a friend or a beloved one. Grabbing a bite with your friends after the sun goes down is now considered an adventure. You might have to change your way at least five times to avoid the falling mortars. You meet knowing that it might be the last time you’ll see each other before each of you takes their way back to the new place they’re trying to restart their life and future from.

ammar

Ammar wished the people wouldn’t treat him like a machine.

The purpose of my visit and the visit of hundreds of people I know who have fled the city to different places inside and outside Syria was to take the midterm exams. Less than one month finishes giving you a mortar beside your house, a bullet in your friend’s head and 2 weeks without being able to see the light or water. Watching my mother fading away among people going back to a place I once used to call home, I sit in the bus taking me back to Damascus.

A lot of children wondered the place between the buses trying to sell sweets to people. They looked homeless, helpless and devastated wearing one layer of clothes with their toes turning purple with the cold. 12-year-old Rama walked into the bus. She was talking to people trying to sell them some sweets. Some of them gave her money while others despised her and told her to get away.
She stood silent behind my seat for seconds before she started reading what I had started writing in my papers IN ENGLISH…. I was more than impressed! “Continue reading darling” I told her.

She read a whole page with anguish in her voice. “Am I reading right?” she asked.
“I used to love English language when I used to go to school. I also loved to read and write the songs they used to teach us there.” She said “After my brother lost his hand because a mortar fell on our house, I started working as a street vendor to help my family. I still have this dream to be a teacher going. I believe I can change who I became today and make people pay attention to what I say just like I did with you now” she told me.

Apfel

Obwohl die Kinder so gut wie nichts besitzen, schenkten sie mir zum Abschied einen Apfel.

She took me to her friend Ammar who had lit a fire to sit beside it with his friend giving tissues to people who wanted to use the bathroom beside the fruit shop. He had only one chair, yet he invited me to sit on it. “You look cold. Come get warm with us,” he said. Ammar also left his school after being displaced six times since the war started in the Salah Al-Din area. “My hands and face look black because of the heating methods we use in our house. We normally cut-off trees and burn wood inside a metal container just like this one,” he says. “My mom says that it’s neither healthy nor clean to do that but we’re not in our house anymore. Therefore, we have to bear all the circumstances.”
“You are the first person who actually stops to pay attention to who we are or asks our names. Normally, people treat us just like we’re machines producing toilet paper, sweets or whatever. They silently put the money on the table and wait for us to give them something in return,” Ammar says.

It was not long before the bus started moving and I had to get back to my seat.
The three children followed me with an apple in their tired hands.it was just as red as their cold cheeks. Their names were graved on it with “Thank You” written in English by Rama. “This is for you to remember us always” they said waving their hands and giving kisses in the air. Although the children of Aleppo have lost every single aspect of their lives and childhood, they still carry the most honest hearts.

The apple, the kisses and the sparkle of their eyes are the most precious thing I’ve ever owned “In Times of War”…..

 

A flower can’t live in the darkness

Nour

I met Nour outside the half-finishes building, where she lives now.

Behind the black walls of a half-finished building, the heart of a little girl called Nour is buried. Her Namein Arabic means “Light” yet she’s fading into the shadows as the days go by. As we talk under the Lattakia sun, her eyes carry the forlorn traces of a million dreams and hopes – lost in the most dangerous place in the world: Aleppo.

Nour left her childhood behind two years ago, back when she had a real home, and went to school, back when in the green fields the  birds used to sing for the children every morning, so that they would wake up and ‘fly’ in the painted sky. Nour seeks psychological refuge in the memory of how she smiled when sleeping in a warm bed or chasing after her friends at school, back when a child’s tears were rare and sacred, and when their hearts still beat with laughter. Continue reading

I would plant all those trees all over again…”

A long time ago, back when the sun still shone peacefully on the northern countryside of Aleppo, lived a then-young man who owned a little roadside watermelon shop – watermelons that he planted, watered and took care of with his own hands, delivering them clean and fresh to the people passing by.

mouhammad

60-year-old Mouhammad Khalifa (Abou Saleh), the oldest employee of the SOS Aleppo village, with now-grown-up, 26-year-old Khaled, the oldest of the first children brought to the village

Walking in the green fields on his way back home one day, the man noticed some construction work. After passing by the mysterious site every day for a week, he asked the security guards what was so important about the project being worked on every day from early morning until sunset. “They were all very excited about what they were doing,” he recalls. “And I really wanted to join in, even though I knew nothing about construction.”

He adds: “They asked me, ‘What did you study?’  And I simply answered that I was illiterate. I consider Tuesday 19 September 1996 the luckiest day of my life. It was the day I was employed by SOS Children’s Village Aleppo as a construction worker.” Continue reading

A sparkle of Christmas in Damascus

abeer

Guest author from Syria: Abeer Pamuk

Christmas just knocked on the doors of Damascus city, in a land far away in the east, the like of which we cannot find with the same characters in the world today. Its markets have been known far and wide, full of the bounties of vine and vale. Peaceful and prosperous, the city was a gateway to what used to be one of the greatest kingdoms ever lived on earth. It was built beside the heart of the mountain Qasyun, where the sun used to set with a golden crown and the leaves of jasmine trees sang lullabies for vacant swings. And it has walls and doors as a live witness of what used to be one of the greatest empires ever lived. The beauty of this fortress city is legend.

The skill of the Damascenes is unequaled. They are renowned for fashioning objects of great beauty out of gold, silver and copper which every visitor admires and seeks to take back with them to the lands from where they came, to remind them forever how beautiful their visit to Damascus was.

But the years of peace and plenty were not to last. Slowly the days turned sour, and the watchful nights closed in. The fire was red and its flames spread, turning huge parts of the city into ash. Walking in the streets of a city ravaged by four years of brutal conflict there is almost no place for a happy day like Christmas. Streets that used to race to be titled as the most shiny, crowded and beautifully-decorated have now grieved the loss of a father, a son , a neighbor or a friend – making one wonder if Christmas would really enter these streets nowadays.

xmas

Passing people took photos with Santa at a patisserie shop.

Christmas talk is still there shining in every heart, of what this day used to mean before the war possessed the normal talk of everybody’s life, hoping that remembering what the beauty of such days used to be would break the spell of the doomed darkness of war to carry what’s left of people back to the life they once enjoyed living. Continue reading

Happiness in the time of war

Abeer Pamuk, guest author from Syria
Abeer Pamuk, guest author from Syria

The Syrian capital Damascus is nicknamed the “City of Jasmine”. One of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, it has an estimated population of 1,7 million. The people of Damascus have suffered from three years of brutal conflict, yet still find motivation to live, and cope with life using what little hope remains.
Parents, mainly mothers, roam the streets, trying to meet their children’s basic needs. When the day is over, they wait for the sun to rise, to do the same thing again.

I wake up in an Arabic house in the ‘Old City’ district of Damascus, to the aroma of coffee made by an old lady who lives next door. Every day I watch her, through the kitchen window, sitting on her rocking chair beside some flowers contemplating the sky. She never skips a day. Curious, I once asked where her family had gone. Her neighbours say she has six sons who, one by one, sought refuge in different countries, leaving her alone at home; her husband died a long time ago. Continue reading

Back to school

Just a few minutes after I had written the text below, I got the following news: Rasha-SyriaTwo car bombs had exploded in the city of Homs – 45 children killed. Their right to go to school? Their right to life? Disintegrated. Sometimes I ask myself what effect we as SOS co-workers can have in the face of such madness. And yet we persevere. We can’t allow terror to prevail. Every child counts!

It is time to go back to school in Syria. Children are always excited to meet with their friends again, to see their teachers and to check if the ‘love notes’ they once engraved on the old wooden desks are still there.

Far too many Syrian children are not returning to their old schools this year, nor are they meeting up with their old friends. They have had to leave their homes, seeking safety and shelter in other places. They have had to change schools, and for most no replacement schools are available. Continue reading

During Ramadan, it’s all about Family

salma

Salma Hakki, guest author from Syria

During the year, we live our special moments and days, whether they’re good, productive, ordinary or even bad. They all impact our minds and memories. But as humans we feel a different impact when these moments occur during a seasonal and spiritual period like the month of Ramadan.

Especially during this horrible war, Ramadan is more than important for us. It is a month during which people learn more about patience, and giving and feeling for unfortunate people, but most importantly it’s about appreciating family relations and strengthening them through small actions.

Continue reading

The most innocent reaction since the beginning of the war

A few days ago I was sitting in my office busy with a lot of office work. My desk Rasha-Syriawas full of piles of paper. I didn’t even know what they were anymore. I received an email from Abeer, one of our main field workers in Aleppo.

I hesitated for a second before I opened her email and then wished I hadn’t. I hear about sad incidents every day, but it is all about the picture – in this case the eyes of a child lying helpless on a bed. I started reading and I couldn’t help but cry.

wael

Wael after he survived the sniper shooting.

In her Email Abeer said:

It was almost 10 pm when I was on a visit to the University Hospital where my mom works in Aleppo city. The smell of blood and dead bodies filled the air there in the lobby. I was staring out into the night. It was a silent, dark night and the surgery room was empty.

Suddenly, I heard a lot of noise, people answering phone calls transmitting news of mortar shelling and snipers shooting in the Al Hamdania and Salah Al Din districts. Nurses and doctors started running towards the emergency room. Continue reading

Art for Peace: ‘Little Dreams’

Art has traditionally played a role in documenting remarkable phases in Rasha-Syriahuman history. It speaks a universal language, brings down barriers, and transmits a resounding message across the world.

SOS Children’s Villages Syria has been holding art workshops at the SOS Child-Friendly Space in Damascus, which receives an average of 200 children a day. The children are either internally displaced or from the hosting community in Rural Damascus. Art plays a role in the children’s psychological treatment, first in the identification and diagnosis of problems, and subsequently in the reduction of the impact of traumatic events experienced by the children during the conflict.the teamCollective photo of the child artists, volunteer artists, and the SOS team

The children’s drawings have been impressive, displaying talent and purity.As soon as they have the colouring pens, they are unstoppable. And of course they always have stories to tell about their art work. Driven by the children’s enthusiasm and our commitment to bringing their voices to the world, SOS Syria came up with the idea of holding an art exhibition displaying the children’s art. It became our “Little Dreams” exhibition.

Preparations

Preparations

The project idea was simple but required a lot of preparation, just like any other public event. Our team consisted of three SOS co-worker volunteers joined by six young volunteer Syrian artists. For more than a month, the team handled administrative tasks, approvals, security, the purchase of materials, etc., while working with the children to sharpen their skills and teach them more techniques, so they could make the most of their work.

The children spent at least four hours a day, three days a week, drawing and sculpting.It was a very joyful experience for them: they had time to play, laugh and live their childhood in a safe environment, despite everything. While the paintings were going through the final selection process, and were being framed and refined, invitation cards were designed, printed and distributed.

In Syria we are very attached to our history (I tend to think so at least!) and I also believe that culture is deeply rooted inside each and every Syrian. We are proud of our history. When you take a walk in the ‘old city’ district of Damascus, you can’t mistake the charm of the old Damascene houses, the smell of the old wood, and the sight of walls leaning on each other as though they are falling down – although they have been like that for years.

Two girls next to their paintings

Two girls next to their paintings

The ‘old city’ district of Damascus is accessible through seven gates. Each gate has its special story. The stories allude to Ottoman Empire times, the French mandate, modern history and the war we are witnessing today. One of the most famous landmarks of the ‘old city’ district of Damascus is the Citadel (also called the Saladin Citadel), which dates back to Crusader times. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citadel_of_Damascus.

We wanted to give a special flavour to our exhibition, so we chose to exhibit our children’s “Little Dreams” in one of the breathtaking halls of the Damascus Citadel. The place was great and we anticipated an amazing connection between the children’s paintings, the message they were sending and the castle.

We were running out of time. Security approval took longer than we had planned (since it was a public place, and in view of the current situation, security approvals were a must). Finally, all paintings, stands and sculptures had been delivered to the location. Standing there, we were all trying to agree on what to put where, and after agreeing we had to learn how to hang up the paintings. It was a bit stressful and some of us were getting frustrated. We had to stick to the working hours of the place because they needed to close the doors, and we had to go home before dark.

Finally, we managed to get everything done. Everything was there, beautifully organised, with the children’s names next to their art works. It felt so real: it was a real exhibition for real artists!

Mouhannad

Mouhannad next to his painting

Our idea was mainly to bring the voices of Syria children to the world, to give them the chance to speak in their own language and to show the world that this was not their war, and that without being asked they were being forced to bear it.They have lost friends, brothers and sisters, parents, and relatives. They have lost their rights: the right to life and the right to being a child.

Their dreams are simple. They don’t believe in fairy tales anymore. They believe in reality. They dream of going back home, of being with their friends in their old school.

Siba is five, and was displaced with her family from Rural Damascus. Her painting was of a big, beautiful house, green grass and a sunny day. Next to the house, she drew a little girl in a colourful dress and wrote next to her: “I dream of being next to my house.” Her dream is very modest, yet it is everything she is currently dreaming of.

The children participated in the creation of two big wall paintings, involving water colour on tissue. One painting was of a big family standing and holding hands, celebrating a family event. Being in a family is very important for them.

happy family

The collective painting: a happy family

Mouhannad, 7, has been displaced since the beginning of 2014. He hasn’t been able to continue school this year because his parents couldn’t bring any papers with them as they fled their home when the fighting became too intense. He never uses a pencil. He likes to draw with colours directly. His lines are defined and show a lot of confidence. He knows what he wants to put on paper and there are no limits to his imagination. In his painting you can see the faces of children. When I asked about them, he said: “These are my sisters. I made the one at the corner big because I love her the most, and I am the closest to her.”

 

More photos are on the official Facebook page of SOS Children’s Villages Syria: https://www.facebook.com/pages/SOS-Childrens-Villages-Syria/102513223282575?id=102513223282575&sk=photos_stream

visitors

Day one at the exhibition in the Damascus Citadel

Every child was standing next to their painting, proudly talking to visitors and explaining it. It was very difficult not to be emotional. Many of our visitors were astonished and couldn’t stop their tears when they listened to the children’s stories.

They are talented, sensitive, intelligent and innocent. There is still much more to do. We contribute to improving their living conditions, to reducing the effect of the crisis on them, to returning the rights they’ve lost, yet we can’t change the reality. In SOS Children’s Villages Syria, together with other child care organisations we promote the No Lost Generation in Syria message, and we are doing everything we can. But we all know: the only way to save Syria’s children is to stop the war, to stop the killing.

collageCollage of little dreams

Syrian children and their little dreams:

“My dream is to be next to my house.My dream is to be with my friends. My dream is to be happy. My dream is to live between the flowers. My dream is to travel the world. My dream is to go into space” –

“My dream is to be happy again. I want to play in the garden with my friends in my old neighborhood. I dream of seeing my teachers and my school friends. I dream of visiting grandma and grandpa in the big family house again. I miss our weekend picnics. I want to look up at the sky and see the birds are still flying and dream of being in space, as I used to do before. I dream of seeing Syria as it was before!”