Syria crisis: House of widows and children
Nothing could have prepared me for that building in Irbid in Northern Jordan, close to the Syrian border. A 24-apartment block, home to only widows, single mothers and their children – close to 200 people.
An uncertain future
I ended up spending three days listening to and documenting their stories. “I don’t know what’s gonna happen to us,” said one mother. “My son has been scared since he was born,” said another. “I miss going to school,”said a six-year-old.
So many of the children that I’ve met and talked to in the past few days expressed themselves like grown-ups. Their body language was not that of children but of adults. They moved slowly, not as most children would.
Three out of four Syrian children have lost a close friend or a relative in a conflict that now has entered its third year.
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Smiling faces of children welcome me when I enter the building. After all, these are some of the lucky ones – they escaped the violence in time. And once again, I am reminded of how strong and resilient children actually are.
Responding to trauma
Some of the children in that building have been going to Save the Children and ECHO’s psycho-social workshops, which aim to bring back some sense of normality to children’s lives.
The facilitators, parents and children alike will tell you that the difference after only a few sessions, is remarkable. And that it takes so little for them to bounce back.
“Their parents may be processing the war or grieving a lost child, not realising the needs of their remaining children, just as traumatised as themselves,” one of the Save the Children’s facilitators tells me. And this is where the workshops make a difference.
The children in the building talk about what they have witnessed, some with more ease than others, but they will tell you things thing that even adults would have difficulties processing.
Easing the tension
Most of the flats are somewhat empty. In one corner you’ll see a television set, blasting news on Syria, the most recent fighting, the newest updates on number of deaths.
Many families will show you photos on their mobiles of the relatives they’ve lost, pictures of children.
My limited Arabic gives my interviewees something to smile at, so I use it consciously. A sudden laughter can ease any tension that has built up. The sweet tea or the Arabic coffee that is always offered serves the same purpose.
Talking about loss of lives, loss of dignity, the escape, people’s needs, healing, and regaining some strength and dignity is not easy.
“Why should I stay silent?”
Nearly all want to talk. “Why should I stay silent and not tell my story? This is something the world ought to know,” Reem says, mother of three, and one of the widows in the building.
Initially, she didn’t want to talk, but thirty minutes later she comes back and says she has thought things through.
Reem tells me how tough she finds it having to stay strong in front of her children. “And then last night, my son Mohamad saw me crying.”
Save the Children’s facilitators will tell both children and parents that addressing grief and sorrow, crying, sharing fears and talking about lost ones is part of the healing process.
The psycho-social workshops also benefit Jordanians. The communities in Jordan hosting the exodus of refugees were among the poorest and the most vulnerable in the entire country, even before the Syria crisis.
So now, the aim is to ease adaptation and break down barriers between Jordanians and Syrians, an aim that is becoming increasingly important as the crisis drags on, the numbers rise, the resources in host communities dwindle.
In fact, as the burden of refugees has grown, so have the numbers of clashes between host communities and new arrivals. This fact makes it even more important that our workshops are attended by both Jordanian and Syrian children.
A slow recovery
“The differences between what a Syrian child and a Jordanian child will draw, is staggering”, a facilitator tells me. “The Syrian child just escaped from a warzone, the Jordanian child only knows peace.”
But slowly, day by day, the drawings done at the workshop by the Syrian children start resembling those of the Jordanians.
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