"Our weather is just like us. Hot one day, cold the next, We flare up until you think the universe will fall to pieces, then subside until you think not a spark is left in us." Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, Hunters in a Narrow Street. ( A Christian Arab who fled Jerusalem and lived as an activist in Baghdad. )
This sums up the past two weeks, the flaming inferno of the fire in Shariya camp, the sheer exhaustion and trauma of the post fire victims and the rekindling of the extinguished spark in the spirit of those currently living in crowded local event halls until they are returned to the camp.
It is in that place, the place where our local universe has once again fallen into pieces, that we are witness to selfless acts of kindness. Former Chief Rabbi Sacks ( OBM ) said, "Acts of kindness never die. They linger in the memory, giving life to other acts in return." We see how that one act of kindness to a stranger in our community, brings the pieces of his shattered universe together again.
It is these acts of kindness, the acts of love expressed as deeds, that I will share with you today, many of them given sacrificially by our students. Those who have received kindness from us, their mentors, and are now ready to rekindle snuffed out sparks.
"My family lost everything in the fire, everything. I have been a student with Springs of Hope Foundation for a few years, I have seen how everything they do is with love and kindness, from a place of care. The day after the fire, I came to help, and have stayed working to help mend broken lives. I am busy with cooking and taking lunch out into the shelters, but I see people, especially the widows coming in all day, they are never turned away, they are always given water to drink, they are invited to sit and rest in the shade, and then given clothes, blankets, food, cucumbers fresh from the garden. I will not forget the fire, neither will anyone, but we also will always remember the love, the hope, the kindness, the dignity that we were given. I am grateful to be a part of this wonderful team.”
"My name is Sarmad, and I am 11 years old. I live in a tent with my mother and six brothers. My father left us to marry another lady. Although he lives in the camp, we don’t see him as he has a new life. He knew that our tent was on fire and destroyed, he didn't even look for us or check to see if we were alive. I was in the tent learning the English alphabet when the fire began, I heard the neighbors screaming to run, my mum began to scream, I followed her instructions and ran. I left all my English books, I want to be an English teacher. My world went up in flames. This is the second time in my life that I have run, and lost every little possession. My English books were precious to me, yes they were simple books but my mother, who has no money, had saved on food until she could buy them for me.
Springs of Hope has helped my family. Every day they feed us, they have given us mattresses and clothes, and everything we need. When we go back to our new house they will give us all the appliances which is great, particularly for my mom who has no one to help her. Miss Sahla gave me English books, she took me to a room called The Library and told me to choose whatever I wanted. My heart was so happy. I took a few which she said that I can keep, but I think I will read and return and choose more books. I had never heard of a library, she gave me juice and cookies and told me that I could sit and read and come whenever I like to read. I am so excited and happy to discover this library. Now I know that my dreams did not die in the flames, I will become an English teacher."
"KINDNESS ALSO MEANS 'LOVE' - NOT LOVE AS EMOTION OR PASSION, BUT LOVE EXPRESSED AS DEED."
Ayman, aged 18, is part of our music school. He comes in guitar slung over his shoulder, hair gelled high to the sky, finger nails rounded and filed for guitar playing. His air is that of a musician. During the last two weeks, his guitar has been laid down, his hair has fallen flat and his nails have got dirty with bits of chicken flesh as he has worked around the clock to help us.
"Springs of Hope has been kind to me, to my family and our community for many years now. It is so right that the centre be called The Hope Centre, because it is exactly that. It is the only place where there is hope and where they give hope to all in need.
It is because you have been an inspiration to all of the students, that I can now help. You have given me free education, food, friendship, you have taught me about love, respect, kindness, about caring for others, good manners, and above all to never lose hope. You have taught me that nothing extinguishes faith, hope and love.
I am now so proud to have an opportunity to give back all that has been given to me. God willing I will always volunteer with Springs of Hope. What you do, I will do, where you go, I will go. It is such a wonderful, life giving feeling to go from being a student to now working as part of your team."
"WE ACHIEVE GREATNESS BY HANDING OUT VALUES ONTO THE NEXT GENERATION AND EMPOWERING THEM TO GO AND BUILD THE FUTURE."
Layla is 25 years old. She has three children, her husband finds day labour wherever he can.
"All of our seven years of hard work has gone up in flames. Seven years gone in vain. Once the gas exploded it was raining flames on us. I thought the world had ended. We were screaming and trying to find our children who always wander from tent to tent. I wanted to save just one thing, my dead son’s hat, that was my only memory of him. My memory was burned. I knew that my boys were all safe in The Hope Centre, so I took Jihan and went there. She was terrified."
"What happened on the day of the fire?” Leyla asked Jihan, aged 18 months. She answered with one word, "boom" and covered her ears.
She had a doll that she loved and a small comfort blanket. Now she cries for her doll and blanket.
Jihan is part of our play therapy programme for those currently homeless, she comes to The Hope Centre every day, where both her body and spirit are nourished. We gave her new dolls and a blanket. Now Jihan says, "no boom, no boom."
We have given Leyla new everything. Her son’s cap we can't replace but her universe is coming together again through acts of kindness and new memories are being made.
"TOMORROW'S WORLD IS BORN IN WHAT WE TEACH OUR CHILDREN TODAY."
"I am Aysho. I am 32 years old and have five children. I have no husband, he married another lady and left me and the children behind as he moved on to a new life. We don't see him. He didn't check on us after the fire.
I lost everything when we fled from Sinjar. My life fell to pieces and so did I. Two years ago I was given a simple sewing machine. I taught myself to sew and gradually I improved. I have been learning sewing as a vocation in The Hope Centre. That really has given me hope and I began to make and sell clothes in my tent. I lost all hope when my sewing machine burned.
Springs of Hope was looking for the owner of the sewing machine. There are two of us. My friend Fawzia also lost her machine, but she has gone to Sinjar until her tent is ready. They invited me to the centre, and to my great surprise gave me a new sewing machine, ten times better than the one that was burnt. My old one was simple, this is professional. They have always been so kind to me and my children, but the fire showed a new level of kindness, a new care for me. They have given me hope and my ability to provide for my children back. I am grateful. In times of trouble, it means so much when someone thinks of you and is kind to you. Words don't make things better. Actions do."
Marwa, aged 14 is an orphan. She lives with her brother Zaeed. They both suffer from Ichthyosis, a genetic skin disorder characterized by almost fish-like scaly skin. Zaeed is only 17 but he is the breadwinner. Due to his disease, he can’t be outside so he opened a small shop in a tent in the camp. Both his shop and their home tent were burned. The photos and memorabilia of their parents went up in flames.
They cover their bodies with thick layers of vaseline. Their medical supplies were destroyed.
We provided them with new clothes from our store room. Musa took them to the local pharmacy where we bought the entire stock of vaseline and eye ointment. This felt to us like a drop in a bucket, but they were relieved. I hope that we will be able to find something other than vaseline to give them relief from their pain. Acts of kindness so often seem not adequate to us, but to the recipient, a lifeline has been given and a world restored.
"LOVE TRANSFORMS US. IT MAKES US BEAUTIFUL IN THE EYES OF THOSE WHO LOVE US. IT MAKES US REAL."
Our acts of kindness this week. Again, thanks and due to your acts of kindness to us:
- 605 meals cooked and delivered to the homeless, the firefighters, police and those rebuilding. - 210 kg of cucumbers, 103 kilos of peppers and 20 kg of courgettes, all home grown in our farm garden, given to the homeless. - 136 washing machines given to those whose homes were completed.
WASHING MACHINE DISTRIBUTION
It is not easy. It takes 25 of us to prepare these meals, staff, volunteers and interns day after day. In intense, draining heat. We are usually received with gratitude but there are those who tip meals out, not being what they want, and those who try to take more than we are allowed to give, and then become abusive. We do need grace every day to continue until those made homeless are back in new block buildings, able to stand on their own. We actually are dying to share new projects with you, an incredible competition based upon The Garden, and a wonderful new adventure lined up for November, but all in due course. For now, we help those outside our blue gates, who are in desperate need. On the Fridays which we have taken off to rest, people have gone hungry. We come back to work to hear that people have not been fed since lunchtime Thursday. Competitions, fountains, events, and a surprise, all in due course. For now, we feed, clothe and take care of the widows.
To conclude this update on a wonderful note, with Sami’s story.
"I had two doves. My brother is a bricklayer and bought me the doves with his earnings. They cost him an entire day’s wage. They were my best friends and I took such good care of them. I would take care of them before school and run home to check on them. I always fed and watered them before taking my lunch. They were my entire world. In this huge camp, I had my happy place with my doves. It killed me to see my doves die in the fire. My world crashed. I waited until the flames had gone, I wanted to bury them but they just crumbled in my hands.
You have no idea how happy I am to receive this gift of doves from you. You put the smile back into my life. We have a temporary tent so I will take them home, feed them, make them a good space and nothing will harm these doves. You have given me my whole world back. Thank you Springs of Hope."
Once again, we enter into this new week, not knowing what it holds, wearing two hats, one educational, one of continued crisis response. Please pray for our minds and spirits to be refreshed and renewed so that we can continue to give from hearts overflowing with compassion, kindness and the belief that hope does not disappoint. I have quoted the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks in this update, using two of his "must read" books, To Heal a Fractured World, and the Dignity of Difference. I close with his words, which are indeed my prayer as we chose to respond to the cries of distress this week with acts that bind broken universes and usher in a kingdom of promise where the sparks come back to life.