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Syrian children in Turkey build bridges to the future

© UNICEF Turkey/2013/Watt
Syrian children express their feelings through art as part of a UNICEF-supported programme in the Osmaniye and Sarıçam camps in Turkey.

By Yonca Yıldırım

A safe space, discussion about the arts – and art, supplies, a hopeful theme. What will the participants of the new art classes in Turkish refugee camps for Syrians explore, and what will they create?

OSMANIYE AND SARIÇAM CAMPS, Turkey, 2 August 2013 – “Expressing my opinions without pressure; living in freedom and safety.” This is how one Syrian child, displaced by war and living in a camp in Turkey, defined the rights of the child during an art class organized with the support of UNICEF Turkey.

The art class was one of a series of activities initiated by UNICEF Turkey in the new child-friendly spaces that it has helped to set up at the Osmaniye and Sarıçam camps as part of its ongoing emergency programme Increasing Resilience of Syrian Children under Temporary Protection in Turkey. The child-friendly spaces provide a safe space for children to undertake recreational and respite activities and will provide the opportunity for children to express themselves through activities of their own choosing.

The first four art classes in the two camps also served to mobilize and mentor youth volunteers, who will plan their own activities and motivate other young people in the camp to participate.

What is art?

The mission began with the idea of helping children to express themselves and raise their voices. Facilitators met them with the plan of writing a letter addressed ‘Dear World’ – and building bridges to new hopes. The children managed the rest for themselves.

It was not difficult for them to understand the choice of a bridge. Ahmed*, 14, said, “A bridge helps us reach our goals; it can connect us from one world to another one.”

The class posed the question: “What is art?” Children discussed the arts of sculpture, film, engineering, photography, music, dance and painting. One child said art is anything that one does well – what one does professionally.

Fatma, 17, said, “If one works hard enough to reach her goals, everything is possible, but still we need the help of our teachers.” 

Fatma’s burden, Fatma’s hope

Fatma and her family fled from Hama, Syrian Arab Republic, to Turkey seven months ago. They arrived first at Nizip camp, and then moved to Sarıçam camp.

Fatma worries about family and friends with whom she has lost contact – wonders whether they are alive. She says she carries all of the loads of her family on her back and that there is not enough paper or paint in the world to explain her story, her feelings, what she has seen.

Yet, she is filled with hope. Fatma wants to be an engineer. She wants to improve her Turkish and continue her education in the camps. She appreciates the teachers who work there. Her aim is to use this opportunity to catch up with her education, which was interrupted when she left her school in the Syrian Arab Republic. “We need more support from our teachers because the time passes by quickly, and we have already missed almost three years of our education,” she says.

Peace is the indicator of rights

The class discussed Joan Miro’s oil painting Blue III. Together they explained what the Miro represented – a journey from past to future, a transition from war to hope, the fact that there can be good and bad days, small thoughts getting bigger, sea, sun, life and the light of hope.

Throughout the two-day journey of the art classes, the children expressed many wishes. Younger children had a chance to express their feelings on white sheets, and youth built bridges together and hung their messages to the world on them. The children had different expectations from life, but one message united them all. “Peace is the indicator of rights,” they said, expecting their dreams to come true.

UNICEF’s emergency programme Increasing Resilience of Syrian Children under Temporary Protection in Turkey enables Syrian children in camps to access safe, participatory and inclusive education and recreation activities and spaces. Thus, UNICEF aims to restore a sense of continuity and stability in the children’s lives. Over the next six months, UNICEF will continue activities for children and youth in child-friendly spaces by mobilizing 840 youth volunteers, and will aim to reach 10,000 children living in camps over the life of the programme.  In addition, UNICEF will provide support and training to Syrian teachers in the camps, and improve the condition of education facilities by providing educational and learning resources, and encouraging children to attend school through back-to-school campaigns and related activities.  

The first child-friendly space opened at the Sarıçam camp of the Disaster and Emergency Presidency (AFAD). The opening ceremony on 23 July was marked by an activity during which Syrian children used washable paints to colour themselves and everything else around them that they considered colourable.

UNICEF’s emergency programme is funded by the European Union, the Government of Kuwait, the United States Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, the Government of Denmark and UNICEF National Committees. The project is implemented in partnership with AFAD, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of National Education, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Family and Social Policy, in cooperation with the Turkish Red Crescent Society.

*Some names have been changed.



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