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Khyber crisis: “I miss my friends back home”

By Sarah Kakakhel, Save the Children, Pakistan

It had been over a month since Save the Children started its emergency response for families displaced due to the military operation in Khyber Agency.

Today I was driving along dusty roads in the outskirts of Peshawar to visit a temporary learning centre (TLC) set up by Save the Children.

One of the first things I noticed about the area was the number of brick kilns with smoke billowing out of their towers. I had never seen so many kilns concentrated in one area before.

As if noticing my wonder, the driver explained that the area was known for its deep, red soil and temperatures were well suited for the business here. Even in May, the village was like an oven as the sun beat down mercilessly.

A warm welcome

As I was led to the TLC by one of the village volunteers, I began to hear the voices of children coming from nearby.

Sure enough, stepping through a gate, I was welcomed by a loud “Assalam-u-alaikum” (peace be upon you) from rows and rows of eager young children.

The groups were roughly divided by age; some were learning nursery rhymes, while others were learning about the various organs in the human body.

I sat down with a group of three to six year olds and watched them as they showed their teacher their notebooks. Some were proudly displaying the “good work!” and “excellent” their teacher had rewarded them.

“We are famous now!”

While I watched these children, one little boy caught me by surprise as he sat right next to me, looking inquisitively at the camera I had in my lap.

I took a photo and showed it to him. Pleased by the results, he posed for another, and another. Laughing, a few other children joined in on the fun and watched their pictures in awe.

“We are famous now! You have taken our photo and now everyone will see,” cried eight-year-old Abdul. When I told him that the pictures were unlikely to make it to national television like Abdul had hoped, he looked disappointed.

“I miss my friends from back home and I was hoping that they would see my photographs and come and find me, they have televisions in their house you see,” he explained to me.

I asked if he had made friends here in the TLC. “Only a few. I don’t know how long I will know them for. I don’t want to leave them like my old friends,” was his matter-of-fact reply.

Fear of losing people

As I left the TLC several hours later, Abdul’s words clung to me. I wondered if he or any of his counterparts would ever be able to see the friends that they had left behind.

These children had been uprooted from everything they had known and were brought to safety in an unknown land.

Even though they were now in a safe space with ample opportunity to build new relationships, they were reluctant to do so for fear of losing people they cared for all over again. Abdul is one of thousands of such children from Khyber Agency.

All I can hope for is that they attend these child-friendly spaces, not only to be able to make new friends and help them adjust to their new homes, but to receive the psychosocial support they so desperately need.

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