Learning to overcome the trauma of war - Mahmoud's Story
Mahmoud’s day begins in the idyllic, sunsplashed courtyard of a historical building that is home to the İslambey ÇATOM Centre, managed by UNICEF partner the Southeast Anatolia (GAP) Administration.
Kilis, Turkey- Mahmoud’s day begins in the idyllic, sunsplashed courtyard of a historical building that is home to the İslambey ÇATOM Centre, managed by UNICEF partner the Southeast Anatolia (GAP) Administration. Here, Syrian and Turkish children sing happily together while learning basic words in Turkish. Mahmoud, 6, and his family are among the Syrian refugee families that live in the city of Kilis, in Southeastern Turkey, a few kilometers from the Syrian border. Mahmoud was just a baby when his family fled Aleppo six years ago. His father was killed two weeks before he was born, forcing his aunt Sara to take the children to safety across the border in Turkey. “He was handed to me just as soon as he was born,” Sara says, “so I breastfed him along with my son to enable him to grow strong and keep him healthy, as conditions were sometimes unclean.” Sara has been raising Mahmoud as her own along with Mohammed, also 6, Aisha, 4, and the youngest, Hala, who is 2.
Sara first learned about the İslambey Centre from a community outreach worker who was going door to door in their neighbourhood. “She told me more about the programme and invited me to come visit the school with my two boys and meet the teachers myself,” Sara explains. The centre in Kilis provides a safe and comforting environment for children where they can learn and play. The focus is on providing them with child-oriented activities in a school setting, under the guidance of trained educators and social workers, in order to prepare them for enrolment in Turkish schools.
“The goal of the Early Childhood Education (ECE) Programme is to ensure Syrian children acquire the education, hygiene, language and social skills needed for them to thrive in school, said Derya Dostlar, an education specialist for UNICEF Turkey.
Mahmoud and his classmates begin their lessons each morning in laughter and song, “right foot, left foot, I’m a choo choo train…” they exclaim.
When Syrian refugee children like Mahmoud first arrive here, their first 3 weeks of schooling is dual language – Arabic and Turkish – which helps them to transition more easily to full immersion in their new language.
When asked how the İslambey Centrehas impacted her boys, she says that she’s seen a real boost in their confidence. Mohamed, who was once painfully shy, has become more social. “He has really opened up and learned to express his thoughts and emotions more easily instead of being frustrated and angry,” explains Sara. Meanwhile, Mahmoud has become more disciplined and organized thanks to the routine he follows in school, which he also follows at home. “It makes it much easier for me to parent as the boys are teaching their younger sisters what they learn in school. They love it so much they wish they could go there on the weekend, too!,” Sara exclaims with a laugh.
Mahmoud 6 with his aunt Sara 29 who, along with his uncle, has become his primary caregiver. along
The children also benefit from art and music classes, which are a vital part of the psycho-social support they receive to help overcome their psychological trauma and restore a sense of normalcy to their daily lives. Allowing children to express themselves also helps to build their resilience, by giving them constructive ways to manage the daily stresses of being refugees in a new country.
Art enables Mahmoud to express himself and empowers him to use his imagination and creative skills more effectively. In doing so he can begin to imagine a new future with his family.
The essential hygiene skills the children are learning, such as washing hands before eating and brushing teeth twice a day, also have positive effects on the rest of the family. “When children have access to safe water, toilets and soap for hand washing at school, they have a better environment to learn, stay healthy and realize their full potential,” says Ms. Dostlar. “Children who learn about safe water, sanitation and hygiene habits at school can reinforce positive life-long behaviours in their homes and their communities.”
Mahmoud brings the healthy habits he has learned at school home, washing his hands before sitting down to a snack with his sister.
The İslambey Centre is also an important space for mothers and caregivers from the Syrian and Turkish communities to socialize and interact. Sara works part-time in a laundry factory, and she shares caregiving duties with her mother-in-law who lives with them. “We [mothers and caregivers] often come together for tea here while waiting to pick up our children, and through our stories and tears find ways of supporting one another,” Sara explains. “This place has become a real support system for me and my family and has brought our community closer together,” she says, as she ruffles Mahmoud’s hair.
Mahmoud 6, and his sisters, Aicha 4, and Hala 2, sit down for a snack prepared by their mother at home.
IN PARTNERSHIP FOR CHILDREN
UNICEF in collaboration with GAP Administration and Development Foundation of Turkey, and with funding from the European Union and Norway, supports early childhood education programmes for refugee and local children.