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Little People

We’re in love with our little people, the tiny members of our community who have big dreams and big hearts and one day will be the leaders in the region. They are a joy, a delight, they make our heart sing, and our spirits dance as we step into their world and gently unfold them like a delicate bud about to blossom.  On a dull day full of anxiety they help us to breathe deeply and to be as them, non complicated and trusting. They show us big people how the ordinary comes alive and leads us if we follow the path into the non ordinary.


Hanging out with little people as do Avya and Noori, our play therapists, is a chance to touch their inner world with kindness and gentleness. Hanging out with our little people is a chance to re-examine our core values. Hanging out with little people is healing in itself. 


“It is the children who the world almost broke who grow up to save it.” 

Frank Warren


Shariya camp is full of children. Children under the age of ten. Children who were born in a tent and have no idea what a door or a window are, let alone a real house Children who have no toys. Children who have no garden or yard to play. Children who are being raised on the fast fading dream or parental memory of Sinjar. Children who are being told that one day they will go back “home" but that means nothing as their life is crafted dodging frustrated parents and playing in the alleys of the camp, dodging the sewage. Kids who have no preschool preparation. Kids who have no bedtime story. Kids who have no board games. Kids who are in the “hold” position from the day that they are born until they go to school if they luck out and parents have the required documents.


Camp statistics are as follows. 958 children from age 0-4, and 3785 from 5-17. Our little people who attend play therapy are around four or five. Those who are orphans and attend our special programme for rescued kiddies are between 6 and 11.


Today both Noori and Avya who are very different personalities with different approaches, both equally effective, will share some of their thoughts and experiences with us. 


Noori, Psychologist & Play Therapist

“I love my little people. I wait for them at the entrance to the Hope Centre, when they see me they begin to run towards me shouting, "Hello Teacher Noori". They give me a hug, some tell me that they love me which just makes my heart swell up with joy. When I look at them I see my son in a few years time and think that it is my responsibility to give these children that which I want my son to receive when he will be their age.

Our community is hard. Not only because most live in tents. It is just hard. Life has always been hard with parents’ focus being on survival. Our little people love us because it’s the first time that they feel cared for. It is a new experience for them that someone cares for them and thinks about their future and the building blocks needed now in order to enable a successful future.

I teach them by example and through games how to deal with life situations. How to control stress, how to live in a conflict situation and not be dragged down. How to manage one’s emotions without resorting to violence and aggression. I teach them to identify and label violence in the family, both physical and verbal. Often when waiting outside to greet my kiddies, one of them will tell me about an incident of violence in the family. I then turn to the family, invite them to the centre to give them techniques to avoid violence. It is rare that I confront the parent, that does not work in our honor/ shame culture. It is better to give them advice that can empower them, such as active listening, deep breathing that includes chest, stomach and muscle relaxation. I teach them the Emotional Freedom Technique which breaks their negative thought/ action cycle.

We have game sessions for both the parent and the child, play with a purpose to lead to communication, cooperation, listening, observing and problem solving. To work with little people is also to work closely with their parents who lack awareness and child raising skills.

Growing up in Shingal, I received no help, no encouragement, no empathy and no direction whatsoever. I grew up as an island within a family. I had to find my way, no one helped. There was no personal care, no games, no storytelling, nothing on a personal level that a young child could relate to. So when I see my play therapy kiddies, I see exactly the same pattern. I do not want them to have the same childhood experience as I had, I want to help them and give them the encouragement, confirmation and correction from a place of love that they need.

They touch my heart deeply and everything I do with them comes from my heart. I want the very best for them. I would feel guilty if I did not help them.

I would like to see our activities with these young ones, the 4 and 5 years old extended, significantly extended. We currently focus on play therapy and life skills with them. I would like to see us open a kindergarten for them where they are prepared for school. I teach them English letters and a few words but I would like to see the language of study being English and Kurdish. Avya focuses more on basic education and prep for school, as a psychologist my focus is on life skills. We are very different but balance each other well."

Noori. Psychologist & Play Therapist.


“Were we to allow the wonder of a life of a child to reach us fully and be our teacher, we would have to say "Thank you child of man for reminding me about the joy and excitement of being human. Thank you for letting me grow together with you, so that I can learn again what I have forgotten about simplicity, intensity, totality, wonder and love and to respect my life in its uniqueness." ” 

Garry L. Landreth. Play Therapy: The Art of Relationship


Hazina, ISIS Survivor

“I love the Springs of Hope Foundation. It is my home. I have been with SOHF since my early childhood and I want to stay forever. I especially love play therapy and art and actually all forms of education because everything together gives me a huge knowledge and an amazing childhood.”


- Hazina


Walat, ISIS Survivor

“I learn something new every time I come to therapy. Everything I learn  is useful for life and it gives me confidence to learn and continually discover new things..”


- Walat


Avya, Play Therapist

“There is a strong bond between myself and my kids, they have been with me since their release from the captivity of ISIS, some of them for several years now. Most of them were made orphans by ISIS, most of them have lost both parents, some have no information as to whether their parents are alive or dead, and to be honest memories for some don’t exist. They were born to mothers who were taken into captivity already pregnant, bringing them into the world in a captor’s house. Some were silenced with drugs as Mum was abused. Some where torn from their mothers and have no memory of them. Dad could be in a mass grave or his corpse lying somewhere in the Syrian desert.


Most are taken care of by extended family who take good care of them. A few are in an orphanage as there is no survivor to take care of them. I love them all very deeply and am very close to them. They of course are not my children, but I feel their trust and take that very seriously. They relate to me as a mother, they need nurturing, warmth, love and time. The hearts of these children are so pure and trusting. They deserve to be given the world.


I see their faces change when our bus pulls into the centre. Sometimes their expression is blank, sad, even depressed but as they tumble out they come alive. It is so important to give them space. Space, room to breathe and to realign over the program.  First of all there has to be an atmosphere of peace and calm in our room. Both I and Mr. Noori use essential oils and breathing techniques just to slow things down, to bring us into the same space before the lesson begins.  My little people know that when they remove their shoes and leave them outside, they also remove their anger, frustration and sadness.  It is vital to listen to them, to listen to their feelings and to acknowledge them. They are little people but their feelings and emotions are no different from mine. When they ask a question I give them an answer in the same way that I would answer an adult. We too often underestimate these young children. Their emotional needs, their need to ask and to unpack an issue is no different from mine. They are usually more simple and accepting than we are. I learn from them.


Because we have been together for a long time I know them well, I know their likes and their dislikes. I know what makes them happy and what makes them sad. There are subjects that we can discuss today that were off limits a few years ago as the wounds were still raw and bleeding. I would not have dared to put a blindfold on a child in a game, the subject of family was totally off limits, as were many things. We walked on eggshells for a long time, checking and double checking ourselves and every word we said. I am still very sensitive but know how to get to the places that need unpacking without stirring up trauma. It is of utmost importance to send them home happy and confident, filled and not emptied.


We are approaching Valentine’s day, so the focus of our Valentine’s will be on friends, family and teachers. We do not ignore subjects but find a way to gently navigate new paths bringing them into the joy of the occasion.


Play therapy is so important for these children, their early years were in ISIS. Some were born there and learned from day one to be quiet and stay alive. Play therapy is a partial restoration of the years that were taken from them, of their childhood. It increases their skills, their knowledge on emotional, physical and social levels. It teaches them how to integrate, how to be alone and how to be part of a group. Their confidence and curiosity grow as they handle adaptation skills. 

They learn cooperation, communication, and independence. Little people learning big people skills. And remember that they are being raised by loving family members who take care of their basic physical needs but themselves are survivors, trying to put a plate of rice on the table.


Our Little People are fragile but also very resilient. I see a generation born into suffering and loss becoming whole and restored and eventually taking their place in society, as well rounded contributing members."


- Avya


By way of a P.S. Ten years ago we received a property in War City, now home to our full time kindergarten for Syrian refugees and asylum seekers. It had been registered with the government as a “Safe Space for Preschoolers” . When we began the cleaning process which took us a few months, we, to our horror, discovered teaching material for these four year olds, in books and pamphlets illustrated in colour, bound with the best quality material but containing graphic instructions on how to recognise and behead infidels!!! Needless to say we dispensed with this horrific material immediately and began filling the space with life. I compare the "legacy" of that foul place and the building blocks for life that we are privileged to be able to lay down for these young ones.

I look with pride at the loving, caring work of Avya and Noori, and am very grateful that we are able to provide this safe space to these little people and give them this integral part of their childhood and learning experience which will lead them into a healthy future.



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