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Smiles behind the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Smiles behind the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Since 2011, the Syrian civil war has torn millions of lives apart. Syrian families have had no choice but to leave their homes and even family members behind to seek safer shelter for their children.

On World Refugee Day, we look at how Syrian refugee children are adapting to their new lives in Egypt and still smiling despite their sadness. We share quotes from mothers of Syrian refugee children to find out how they’re transitioning into their new lives after the horrific scenes they have faced. War takes an emotional toll on everyone but children are especially vulnerable.

Syrian refugee children moving to Egypt

Syrian refugee child waves during school

There are over one hundred thousand Syrian refugees registered in Egypt who have settled into new homes in one suburb in Greater Cairo.

Syrian refugee child in his new school in Egypt

But it’ll never truly be home as nearly all have left loved ones behind, having packed their memories with them as they sought sanctuary abroad.

Syrian refugee children play at school in Egypt

Where they could decide their destination, many chose Egypt because of the cultural similarities. Although the different dialects make it challenging for both children and adults.

Young Syrian refugee children in Egypt

Some of the younger refugee children have few memories of their former life in Syria.

Syrian refugee child plays on a rocking horse

But many have been left emotionally scarred by what they witnessed back home.

Syrian refugee children in class at school

To help the children adjust to their new surroundings, we set up the Education in Harmony project in 2015. The project currently offers schooling and psychosocial support to 1,400 vulnerable Syrian refugee children who are severely affected by the war.

Eighty per cent of the school’s pupils are aged between 7 and 14 years: many are old enough to recall the war in vivid and excruciating detail. Accepting what they’ve seen and the chain of events that has brought them to their new life can be a painful and gruelling process.

Syria remains a vivid  memory: Quotes from mothers of Syrian refugee children

Ahmed slept under his bed after escaping Syria

Ahmed is one of those children receiving support. At 10 years old, his calm demeanour would never suggest to an outsider that he has been through such an ordeal. He speaks calmly, but begins to fidget as he remembers the day his world was turned upside down.

His family was forced to hide in a bunker when their apartment came under fire in August 2012. After armed men attacked the shelter, killing three relatives, his father was arrested, and the surviving family members were so terrified of danger that they stayed hidden underground for six days.

For many months he slept under his bed to shield himself from the planes that might fly overhead and the bombs they might drop.

Ahmed’s mother

Rana is too terrified to talk about Syria

11-year-old Rana used to live in Aleppo, but she doesn’t want to talk about it. Despite the fact that she was seven when she left, she insists she doesn’t remember Syria and that she most definitely doesn’t want to visit.

Rana’s mother, however, tells a different story, saying that actually, her daughter can recall in detail her hometown, right down to the street names. Far from forgetting, Rana had been so affected by what happened to her that she is scared to discuss her former life for fear of being forced to return to it.

At the beginning she was terrified. She would put her hands over her ears because she was fearful of overhead planes. Aleppo felt the full force of the war, so there were always planes in the air and tanks standing around the city. Rana was terrified of the sound of planes.

Rana’s mum

How we're helping Syrian refugee children to smile again

But the Education in Harmony project is helping children like Rana and Ahmed get back a sense of normality.

The school uses group therapy and individual sessions to help the children come to terms with what happened and to accept their new reality.

When it is time for the remedial classes, he is noticeably joyful. Even managing the glimmer of a smile.

Mother of Syrian refugee child

There is care and kindness between the children and the teachers. Ahmed has started to communicate and to go out with his friends, and his awareness has increased. This makes me very happy. He’s becoming an ordinary child again.

Ahmed’s mother

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