Caritas Syria, witnessing through actions and words to a new era of peace and coexistence (II)
by Sandra Awad*

Sharing experiences and creating bonds between people of faith, ethnicity and different origins to overcome the traumas of the war and the confessional divisions. The school of Medaa, in the Ghouta, and the meeting with hundreds of young Muslim students. From fear to the joy of overcoming prejudice.

Damascus (AsiaNews) - Sharing experiences, creating bonds between people of faith, ethnic groups and different origins is the only way to overcome the divisions that are aggravated by a bloody conflict like the one in Syria. As confirmed by a young scout who recently met hundreds of Muslim children from Ghouta. "Today - he explains - I realized I had a mission: to tell what we saw to our families and friends in Damascus".

Here, below, the second part of the testimony (for the first part click here) about which, shortly, Caritas Syria will make a short film. Translation by AsiaNews:

On the Children’s International Day, which was on November 20, our psycho-social team in Caritas walked side by side with the young Christian scout groups from Damascus and the secondary school students of Medaa in the destroyed streets of their village. The school director was explaining to us during the walk about the old days before the war. It was like other Ghouta villages, an agricultural area, full of olive and fruit trees. He pointed to a destroyed two floor house and said with a sad voice: “This was my house. It was a beautiful country house, but now as you can see, they destroyed it, and destroyed with it all our good memories, happy moments and hope. I will never be able to restore it again with my modest salary”

We finally arrived to our destination, the school of Medaa where around three hundred seventy-seven elementary school students were waiting for us impatiently.  We were told that some of them were too excited that they came and waited for us from the early morning. They welcomed us with some songs and applauses. We surrounded them from all side, we asked everyone to put his hand on his heart and started singing the Syrian National Anthem, to feel that we all belong to one country by heart.

After the welcoming speech of the director, I was supposed to explain to those gathered students about Caritas mission and our campaign, but before doing that, I found myself saying: Do you know how I see you from where I stand here in front of you? Colors and colors… beautiful colors making a wonderful mixture. This mixture of colors is very similar to Syria. We are different from each other, we might belong to different religions, sects or have different opinions, but with our variation we compose the Syrian rainbow. fI this rainbow loses some of its colors, it won’t be shining in the sky in such beauty…”

We started our program for the day. Children of the elementary and secondary school were distributed among the young people of the psycho-social team and the scout groups to have some fun games together. Meanwhile, we asked participants to color with their fingerprints the Syrian flag, which was prepared earlier by the scouts on a big board.

“All the faces were smiling and laughing from the bottom of the heart. We felt that children were thirsty for some joy and young scouts were full of enthusiasm to give those deprived children some happiness. I can dare to say that it was a real festival of joy going around…” Mary said, assistant in the communication department.

While everyone was having fun, the director of the school approached me and said: “Can you see this little girl? She has passed through very difficult times during war and have seen a lot of bad things. Two months ago, when she started attending our school, she was very isolated and she rarely socialized with other children. Her teachers were facing difficulties in dealing with her. Look at her now, I can’t believe it. she is playing and laughing. You succeeded in making her get out of her pain and have some fun, but such support should be continued with her and with other children like her, who are so many, to help them get out of their trauma gradually.”

At that moment, two young people from our Caritas team who were wearing Disney characters costumes reached the crowd. When we bought those costumes, we tried to choose old cartoon characters, as those children were isolated for many years and might not be familiar with the new trendy characters. Some of them even don’t know any of these characters as they have the age of war.

Hiba who was wearing Donald Duck costume said “What happened is that children became overwhelmed. They started touching, pinching and hugging me to discover whether I was real or not.” 

At the end of this day, Caritas team distributed gifts to children, candies, stationery and a warm pajama for each one of them. The children held their gifts like if they were holding treasures. The director said to us while saying goodbyes: “Your gifts to those children are very much appreciated. Having a piece of biscuit for many of them is a dream. Some of them are still wearing summer clothes although we are in winter now, but what is the most important is the joy that you made them feel. I assure you that those moments will remain in their minds for a very long time.”

It is true that we offered some joy and gifts to 377 children in Ghouta, from which one hundred children are orphans. They lost whether their father or their mother or both, but we received an even more important gift in reward when a young scout took the microphone in the bus while coming back to Damascus and said: “I would like to thank Caritas for this opportunity and great experience. Yesterday I was hesitating whether to participate or not and I was really afraid, am I going to be kidnapped in Ghouta? How would be the reaction of the children? Are they going to accept us? I discovered today that I had a lot of pre-judgments that I should change, and I feel that I have a duty now, to talk about what we have seen and experienced here to our families and friends in Damascus…”

* Director of communications for Caritas Syria