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Refugee Kids in Turkey Get Break from Nightmare

July 20, 2017

Refugee children in Turkish school.
For refugee children in Turkey, school is a joy.

For Syrian refugee children, a notebook and pencil is not just a notebook and pencil.

A refugee child who was 10 years old when Syria's "Arab Spring" tried to erupt in 2011 — before strongman President Bashar al-Assad quashed protests, triggering civil war — now finds he is a 16-year-old who has not gone to school since he was 11 or 12, depending on when his family fled.

His home was virtually his entire world when the atrocities of war drove his family away. He hasn't seen home in years, perhaps a third or more of his young life, and he has no idea if he will ever see it again. This is just one trauma for kids who have seen family members tortured, killed or raped.

Cooped up in a tent for years, a Syrian refugee child who receives a notebook and pencil receives a powerful symbol and memento from the life he once knew. An indigenous ministry in Turkey is providing notebooks and pencils as part of a new effort to educate Syrian children in ramshackle refugee camps.

"Even though their 'homes' are in mud, and they don't have toys and often have no shoes, they do have notebooks and pencils and feel more like normal children, thankful that they are being educated," the ministry director said. "I am excited and encouraged to see a light of joy on the children's faces, instead of misery."

The classes the ministry offers to a wide age range of children shoot a glimmer of hope into the darkness. The kids get to gather together as a group, alleviating the burden of loneliness; they get classes in their native Arabic; and the canvas shelter with its blackboard and classic Middle Eastern rugs means they get to meet in a setting that is not the confines of their tumbledown apartments or primitive tents.

They also come into a more light-hearted environment where they are not absorbing the worries of the grown-ups. Especially as European countries close their doors to immigrants, Syrian refugees are feeling increasingly insecure, the ministry's teams have found.

"They wonder if they will ever return to Syria," the director said. "Will Turkey send them somewhere? Will they go to America or Europe? There's very little positive hope, and lots of illness."

The children's classes are taught by a Syrian teacher who is a refugee himself. Since instruction began last spring, Christian Aid Mission donors have made it possible for the indigenous ministry to pay the teacher, which has blessed his family as well.

"He really enjoys teaching," the director said. "He's also giving some English lessons, as there's a possibility that some of the refugees may end up in an English-speaking country."

The teacher and the children's families, who are mostly Muslims, know that those making the classes possible are Christians. The teacher shows the ministry team great respect, and the children joyously greet the Christian workers.

"They don't know anything about religion, but they know that we are Christians who are helping them," the director said. "The teacher explained to the children that, 'It is Christians who are showing God's love to you. They are not enemies and are on the side of helping the needy.'"

Formerly a devout Muslim himself, the ministry director said that the classes will help shape the children's view of Christians, contrary to what they might learn from Muslims. He also believes that education will help keep children from hurting so much psychologically and falling prey to recruiting efforts of Islamic terrorists. The unofficial camps have their share of Islamic extremists.

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While in class, refugee kids remember what it was like to have a normal life.

"We are giving them the opportunity to choose more positively — may they choose to belong to God's family and help serve others," he said. "My goal is not merely to feed them but also to educate them, as this keeps them busy and allows them to live above depression; it gives them a warmer view of the world."

Besides the notebooks and pencils, the ministry needs assistance to provide coloring books and bags for carrying these items. For $12 a month per child, the ministry seeks to support three teachers and provide classes and notebooks, pencils, paper, and backpacks for 200 refugee children.

"They particularly want school bags, so they can feel like normal students," he said.

Still needed, also, are vitamins for the children, fruit juices and basic food supplies for families. Mothers still urgently need clean water bottles for their babies, as well as baby food.

Ministry team members began seeing more smiles on the children's faces after the young ones began learning to read and write, as well as taking science and social studies. The parents, meantime, have the peace that they can look for work knowing their kids are in a place where they will not be kidnapped.

They are also pleased that their children are learning to be better behaved, as they are taught values such as respect. While kids in camps without classes practically wrest the aid from ministry worker hands, the schooled children greet them, hug them, wait quietly and, upon receiving items, give thanks.

"Even with the serious difficulties of being refugees, when the children are being schooled, the parents are blessed," the director said. "Their mothers and fathers are smiling because their children are able to learn things in their own language. They bring their children to us with a sense of pride that this is possible."

The director said he deeply appreciates Christian Aid Mission donors' prayer and support that will enable the ministry to continue and expand schooling children and, in the words of the ministry director, "keep alive and well" the elderly, infants and other vulnerable refugees. Please consider helping the team to show God's love to them.


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