Text by Shafeeqah Ahmad and Photographs by Arif Nurhakim
Kurdistan squats over a mound of soil that the she and her friends have piled up, they giggle, marveling at the ‘mountain’ they’ve built with their hands. They excitedly use their fingers as mountain climbers on an expedition, laughing gleefully as they get dirt in their nails. There is nothing more resilient than a child’s spirit; with just some dirt and imagination, the children convulse in laughter.
Children make up over 51% of the world’s displaced persons. Many Syrian children like Kurdistan, fled their homes, leaving their childhood behind. Displacement has severe psychological and social impact on refugee children and adolescents, and it is vital that they can experience consistency in their lives again. This is why, Lighthouse Relief has created the Children Friendly Space (CFS), it is a space that provides a nurturing environment for the children in the camp where they can access free and structured play, recreation, leisure and learning activities. With most of the children having witnessed great violence during wartime, refugee children are at a higher risk of having lasting psychological impact. The CFS main purpose is to provide psychosocial support to the children and creating structure for them so as to have a sense of normality returned to their lives. The CFS primary aim is to facilitate staff and volunteers to identify and refer potential protection cases.
The family have been living in Ritsona camp for six months. Kurdistan, the youngest of seven children, has short blonde hair that is always in tangles as she darts around the camp in fullspeed. Her older brother, Mohammed, a first-grader, is equally as energetic but much more mischievous than she is. And Ismail, who is a few years older than Mohammed, loves going around giving handshakes to volunteers only to recoil his hand in a swift motion, pretending to gel back his hair. And the three siblings all share the brightest smiles, a wide grin that wrinkles their eyes into happy crescents.
Every morning starts with the older siblings tidying up the tent and getting the stove out to prepare the first meal of the day. Breakfast is a typical Syrian breakfast - hummus, cheese, olives, an aromatic spice mix they call za’atar, a sweet sesame paste called halawa, all served with Arabic bread and tea. Hands stretch out, reaching for the different small platters arranged on the mat. Mohammed carefully pours a cup of tea for his little sister, who is simultaneously chewing on plain bread and reciting her ABC's. Their mother looks at me to say, that she’s always like that, excited to learn and show off what she’s learnt.
In a refugee camp, where there isn’t much to do, the children look forward to their time in the CFS. Many start wearing their backpacks hours before the session even starts, the children would slowly congregate outside the fence of CFS an hour before, eagerly waiting for learning to begin. Mohammed is one of those eager children, but he comes even earlier with his little pink pram. He steps onto it, peeks his head over the fence and calls out to the volunteers, asking for the empty jerrycans. Mohammed does this everyday. He fills the jerrycans with water, loads it up on his pram and pushes it back to CFS, so that the other children will have water to wash their hands with. When they’re not in CFS, the children, like Mohammed are actively finding ways to be involved and helpful.
The CFS teaches important life skills, and usually centers their teaching based on a theme each week, for example, personal hygiene. Pushing for awareness on good sanitation and hygienic practices is particularly important in a refugee camp. The sessions start and end with the children thoroughly washing their hands with soap and water.
Outside of the hours of CFS, the children keep themselves entertained with other activities. Ismail, a bright kid, usually helps at the food distribution warehouse in the morning, translating requests in Arabic and Kurdish to English, helping the residents communicate with the volunteers giving out the food rations better. This is how he practices his English daily. And in the afternoon, before the second CFS session at 5 pm, he plays frisbee and football with his friends. His soccer match usually ends just 10 to 5 minutes before the CFS session, and just as the whistle blows he dashes off to his tent to quickly freshen up for Lighthouse School. Ismail never misses a session of CFS, and is often times among the earlier ones, if he doesn’t have a soccer match right before, of course. Ismail is one of the brightest in his session, and has dreams of becoming a doctor.
As the day winds down, and the children start to lose their energy, the siblings retreat back into their tents. Mohammed’s pink pram sits outside of the tent, Ismail grabs his towel and heads for the shower, and Kurdistan is still reciting the ABC’s into the night.