Summer is a special time. Above all, the heat is too much. Although school is out, no one goes on holiday, such extravagance does not exist in the Land between the Two Rivers which are rapidly evaporating and becoming contaminated. We, therefore, do all we can to make summer different, Art in the Park events with Music and Art. Summer Storytelling hour every Monday with very little ones in the Hope Centre. Simple but effective and lifegiving.
Storytelling immediately became a firm favourite with our little kiddies who had never heard a story, never ever had someone sit with them and read to them. When fighting for survival, stories don't enter the equation and mothers are mostly illiterate. There is no such thing as "tuck in" time before bed with ten people sprawled over communal mattresses spread in front of the swamp cooler.
Noori, our psychologist, is somewhat of an overgrown kid. He is a storyteller par excellence, one whose joy is to sit with these little ones and tell them stories with a moral. These kiddies are part of his heart, just walking outside his body. He puts his psychologist "hat" aside and for this hour is a big brother to them in which he delights. He first checks their nails, to make sure that they are clean and tidy. Sometimes a child comes to him to request that he cut his nails, saying “I asked my Mum, but she didn't help me.” He does it in his humorous, gracious way that puts everyone at ease and preserves their dignity. That’s how it is when a part of your heart walks outside of your body, there is guidance and correction with love and gentleness.
“Discipline your children, they will give you peace of mind and will make your heart glad.“ Proverbs 29:17
We gently enforced dress and hygiene standards from the day we opened our gate, washed, clean, clean tidy hair, clean nails and no pyjamas or torn clothes. If walking through the camp, one can literally identify camp kids and SOHF kids. Two different worlds, noticeable to everyone.
Whilst reading a story entitled Brave Birds, many of the littluns commented that they had never seen a bird, and had not even heard of a duck. Time to take them to Horses for Hope which in addition to our seven, yes seven horses, has doves, ducks, Oscar our dog and Shano the very tame squirrel. Those who had seen an animal, they had only seen from TV, they had no concept of size, of the nature of an animal, it was a totally new world for them.
I decided to write about this simple visit to the stables because it includes elements that are so radical and counter-cultural here, although "taken for granted" for the non Mid Eastern reader.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not depart from it.”
We took our little ones to the stables in our minivan driven by Mahat, our driver. First thing, one child to a seat. Outside SOHF it would be as many as you want per seat. Secondly, every child is buckled in, we check that one by one. Outside SOHF the seat belt has decorative purposes only. The norm is that Mum or any adult passenger sits in the front seat, with no seat belt, holding her baby, her child or as many children as are able to climb over and onto her. The rear seat kids open the windows and hang out, any overtaking driver could easily kill them. Windows, of course, are made for garbage disposal. Speed limits are nothing but suggestions made to be ignored. Traffic signs are frequently hung upside down so no one bothers to glance at them. (FYI my neighbor the colorful Shex Sherwan proudly holds the title of Traffic Police in Duhok whilst his 11 year old son drives his car inside the village, his head barely peeking over the steering wheel.)
Statistics for 2022 show 3706 accidents occurred in Kurdistan in 2022, with 455 people killed and 4772 injured. According to a police report “the cause is reckless driving behaviour. aggressive driving, failure to wear seat belts, and not paying attention to road signs.” Ekurd daily, January 10, 2023
Before leaving the Hope Centre, Noori prepped our kiddies, on behaviour in the vehicle, with the horse and all the animals. They were ready to go and see real live animals for themselves. Some were excited, some nervous, not knowing what to expect from even a bird.
Buckling our kiddies into their own special seats made them feel important, protected and honored. The event took on a grandeur of its own. An unknown adventure was unfolding. Some even showed Noori that their hands and nails were clean, all were dressed in their very best clothes.
Noori explaining about behavior in the vehicle and stables upon arrival there was silence. The silence of being transported into another world. Almost a holy hush. They didn't know what to do because they didn't know the protocol of the animal kingdom.
Let’s hear the voices of these little ones, the culture changers, the walking hearts.
“Oh my teacher, when you read us the story of the Brave Birds, I too wanted to be brave. I wanted to see the Springs birds, but on the bus I became so scared. I didn't want to tell you but I was very scared but once I met Coach Barzan, and he hugged me and took us all around, and only to the horses at the end, then I became brave. I didn't know that animals existed outside of the TV. It was a wonderful experience, I learned to be bigger than my fear. Now that I am brave, I would really like to come back for another visit.”
“I have never seen horses, not even on the TV. I loved Teacher Barzan more than anything because he was so gentle and patient and finally I loved the horses. I even touched them. It was the happiest moment of my life.”
“I know that our story was about the birds, but they were boring. I loved the horses. I cried a little at the beginning because they were so big and I did not feel brave enough to get close to them. The wonderful teacher helped me and I calmed down and touched them. The horse really loved me. I want to go back again.”
“I am super proud of myself because I was the first one to touch Wosky ( Oscar has become Oski, and now Wosky ). I was super brave, I touched him and the horses before anyone else. I am super happy because Wosky loved me more than anyone. I saw a horse once on TV but now I saw them in real life and they are totally different. Wosky asked me to come back and visit him, so I hope we return as I don't want to keep him waiting. Mamnun. Thanks.”
“My family didn't even tell me that there are animals in this world. Now I have seen horses and ducks and I am so very happy. It was a wonderful day. I will tell my family that there are animals in this world.”
“I loved the ducks. I wanted to see ducks after hearing our story. I also saw the horses and touched them but I liked the ducks more. I want to be brave too.”
“I love reading stories to these children. They are stories, but ones with a lesson for life, stories to which they as children born in a refugee camp should be able to relate. When telling the story of the Brave Birds, I was very surprised to see that they had no knowledge about many animals.
When I shared with Miss Lisa, she suggested introducing them to nature, and animals at Horses for Hope. These are a generation of tent born children who have not been outside the camp. The tents are their only point of reference, so as a psychologist and as a father to a six month old son, I wanted to show them and to help expand their world and instill a curiosity instead of a fear of the unfamiliar. My goal is not to entertain them with stories, but to cause them to think, to ask questions and to relate to easy subjects and to see how they can apply the morals in their lives, as young as they are. It seems to me to be the right age to give them values for life.
God bless these little ones. It is my joy to serve them.”
“This is a generation of children born in tents. A generation of children being raised by parents, families who are survivors, still living survivor mode. We can not praise highly enough their parents who have the awareness that they lack the ability to invest in their little lives, they don't know what to do with them, as they still don't know what to do with themselves. Those parents who bring them to us as an act of investment for the future. These are the children born into limbo. Hanging there in time and space until decisions about their future are carved out for them. Their life knowledge begins and ends into whatever “Section” their particular tent is. Section A through Section E, and most have not made it outside their section. We are grateful for the honesty of their parents and their determination that it will be different for their children.
When you embrace these kiddies you fall in love. They do indeed take a place in your heart, maternal and paternal instincts rise and you desire the very best for them. You desire to impart knowledge, wisdom, moral standards and ethics creating a platform for them for life. They indeed become part of your heart, just walking outside of our body. We want to see them succeed. We want to see them blessed. Little hearts holding huge destinies.”