The great fire of Shariya Camp broke out during the Friday afternoon siesta time on June 4th. It took two months until those displaced were able to return to their "homes" which were no longer tents but simple block buildings.
As you will recall, our summer months changed course overnight to help those displaced, we fed, we provided water five times a day as there were no means of keeping water cool. We purchased household items, washing machines, water coolers, stoves, etc. We provided utensils, mattresses, and clothes. All we had, we gave. We opened The Hope Centre to provide a framework for their children, and counselling for those in need.
This week we went to visit some of those now living in more permanent buildings, to say hi and see whether, and how life in a block building has affected them.
"I live in a very small house, but my window looks out on a very large world." - Confucius
"We were so deeply traumatized by the fire. Once again we lost the very little that we had been able to accumulate during the past seven years of camp life. It was a total disaster, a horror to see our tent burning in front of our eyes, once again as bystanders unable to prevent it, and unable to do anything other than run for safety.
In those moments and the days that followed we could not have dreamed that our life would totally, 100% change for the better. I remembered the old proverb, that when God closes a door he opens a window. I told Raad and my children to remember that saying, that it is truth. God sees us in every situation, so we should never give up, he has a solution that is always better than the situation.
Almost four months have passed, and I am so happy. I never would have dreamed that I would have a comfortable safe room where I do not need to fear fire. I have a window. That was the window that God gave me. And I hear that the camp management will actually cement the alley way so that it will be a road outside.
I still can not believe that I am living in this tiny house. I can not believe that I have a kitchen where it is safe to cook. Every morning when I wake up I truly think that I am in heaven. Every evening when I lay my head on my mattress, I thank God for giving me this wonderful home.
Before the fire, we never slept in peace. We always had the thought of fire in the night in our mind, and that affected our sleep over seven years. We slept but we were always alert. Now we sleep and our minds and bodies are stronger because we do rest.
We also don't face the challenge of winter, I am a widow but I have boys who can help me, but there are those widows who are alone with no one to repair the tents after the damage of the previous winter and heat of the summer. I believe that this winter will be different, we will no longer be pummeled by the rain and the wind and have to get the rain out in the middle of the night, and be scared of the tent being washed away.
As for my window, oh my window. I love my window. Imagine if you can, living in a tent with no window for seven years. I always felt that we were living in a cave with one light bulb. Psychologically and emotionally we were exhausted and broken. Now we have a window, we can breathe and we have enough light. My joy is to open the window in the morning, to breathe fresh air and not the seven year old stale smell of the tent and the camp.
Raad painted our room, our house with our favourite colours, we are so happy. With every day that passes we become emotionally stronger. We have arranged our simple things with great care in our new house. Finally, after seven years we all feel that we have a home, that we are at home, even though legally it does not belong to us. Finally, after seven years we are living again. We are at peace. My husband died without seeing this, I know that he would be so happy for us. I planted his favorite vegetable outside our door, corn.
We are so grateful to Springs of Hope who were with us from the first moments of the fire until we received this new house. You provided everything for us, but it wasn't about goods, about material things, you stayed with us day and night. Our sorrow became your sorrow. You were not an NGO giving something and going. You were our family. Our life was your life, your life was our life. You carried us throughout this hard period. Our door is always open to you. You are our family.
It is hard for us to be living in a palace when our friends are still living in a tent. We do not want any more fires or disasters but our prayer is that everyone in the camp will have a new house like ours. A house with a window."
- Ayshan, Mum to our student and volunteer, Raad.
"And I will make thy windows of agates"
"Life in the tent was like living in a military camp. Every tent was the same, there was no privacy, no space. We had to be ready to run at every moment, both day and night as fire could break out at any time. We have very few possessions but we had to be ready so as not to lose this very little. We have run a few times in the past seven years, managing to grab our things, but not this time, everything went up in flames.
To cook was to take our lives in our hands every day. Imagine cooking inside the tent, it's all closed in, no window, no air. For seven years I shook with fear when I was cooking. If my son cried, I had to ignore him because in that one second of being with him, our tent could go up in flames with us all perishing. We now have an outside kitchen, I can cook quietly, without fear, in peace and patience. You helped build that kitchen and I am so grateful for that, it relieves much pressure and fear. I cook our meals with a happy face and a comfortable heart.
I am thankful oh so thankful for the washing machine you bought for me. Before the fire, I had no money for a machine and washed all our clothes, our bedding, everything by hand. This is a wonderful machine, it cleans everything so well and so fast. My life has become so much easier, and pressure is being removed. I have space for the washing machine, which I would have not had inside the tent.
I love the sewing machine you bought me. I was devastated when my sewing machine was burned. I mend all our clothes and make clothes for my son who is nearly one year old. It helps me to relax when I sit in the evening and sew. I open my window and sit and work as if I was back in Shingal. I hear my neighbors but the sound has changed, it's a peaceful, everyday life sound, it's no longer angry.
We sleep in peace. It’s not like before when every hour we had to check inside and outside in case a fire was taking place. Now we sleep, and that means we are not so tired, we are not so afraid, we are not so frustrated and angry. We are different, and I think that for me and my family only now can we begin to heal from the loss of our homes in Shingal. For seven years we survived, but it was not the time to heal because of the dangers inside our tents. Now we are healing. I have had two miscarriages since living in the tent. Only now do I feel that my body and emotions are coming into the place of peace.
It is hard that we have block houses and our family and friends are in tents. When they come to visit they don't want to go home to the tent. Now that they see our window and feel our air, they realize that they are choking inside their tent. Everyone wants a window. These moments are very hard for us all.
I would like to see everyone given the chance to have a block house with a simple window. Imagine how the atmosphere of the camp would change if we all could have the peace that a few blocks give us."
"And it came to pass at the end of forty days, Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made."
"My name is Aysho and for seven years I have been waiting for each season to bring something new. Each season blended with the next, there was no joy in the new season. Spring meant we had to fix the damage of the winter. Autumn meant we had to prepare again for the winter, fix the tents again, put weights on the roof, add a new tarpaulin to the roof, put more mud around the sides of the tent to protect against the rain. We lived according to the seasons, boiling hot and freezing cold. There was not one season that was kind to us.
We had only one light bulb, no air, nothing. Just the walls of the tent that seemed to be moving closer and closer, gradually sucking the life out of us without us noticing. We are six in one tent, I have four sons and one daughter. The dangers of having a fire break out were very real and always with us.
The fire was terrifying but looking back, it brought us unexpected new opportunities. I have space. I have a window. I did not realize how much I missed my simple windows in my home in Shingal. They had no glass, but I could see out, watch life, see the seasons come and go and I could breathe. I have a window again, one which I can open and close. We have painted the walls inside blue, we love blue, it reminds us of the sky, I feel that with the window and the paint, our home has opened up.
With your donations, we were able to buy some second-hand furniture. Now we all really feel at home. We are now closer as a family because so much stress of just surviving another day has gone. We are thankful.
I have a kitchen, I am no longer afraid to cook. Every day I was under stress because of the cooking and the very real possibility of a fire breaking out inside the tent.
We did not sleep at night, we were always in fear of a fire in our tent, a fire in the neighbor’s tent, now we are comfortable and we sleep. I have not had one night's sleep in seven years. Because I am sleeping again and in peace of mind, I have gone back to sewing. I studied sewing with Springs of Hope who also bought me a new machine when mine burned. I am now beginning to sell the clothes I make in my new home.
Life has changed. Finally, a new season came and it was kind to us. Thank you for being there for us and helping us. “
"My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door." Song of Solomon 5.4
Muhanned is our much loved photography student, who is part of our family. He took his precious camera everywhere with him, only on the day of the fire, he did not. His camera was burnt. I will never forget the photo of him sitting in the ashes of his tent holding his smouldering camera.
Within a few hours we had replaced his camera, which now goes everywhere with him. His face lit up, his joy was restored. We asked him how life in the block house is.
"You saw me broken, just like my camera. I did not even think of a block house, that was for kids with dreams that don't come true. We waited patiently for a tent, and were over the moon when the news came that we would all receive a block house.
The day I entered through a real door, with a key, was the day that my life began again. For days I kept taking the key and locking and unlocking the door. We have a window, one with a handle that could be opened and closed. I did the same with the window. The door and the window are life.
Our future has become brighter. Now that I have my new home, I do not want to return to Shingal. When I put the key in the lock, I am coming home. My home in Shingal is destroyed and abandoned, we have inhabited our block home. We all feel so very blessed. God gave us that which is best for us.
My Mum cooks with joy instead of fear. We sleep better, well we actually sleep. We have everything we need thanks to Springs of Hope, you even gave us a tv which only a few families have. We lack nothing, we are so very blessed and grateful.
I feel that I am losing some of my friends which is very hard for me. They all came once to see my new home but they have not returned. I put myself in their shoes and understand how hard it is for them. I go to visit them. It makes me sad as I realize how hard it is, how dark and claustrophobic it is, and how much they are still suffering. At the moment our unspoken compromise is that we meet at The Hope Centre or some land where we play football. I don't know what will happen in the winter. I don't want to lose my friends because of a few blocks. I work hard on myself to make sure that this does not destroy my joy and peace. They tell me that I have changed, and it is true that I have. They tell me that home is where you are safe and can enjoy time with family and friends, they don't have that. I do. That makes us different. I want them to have houses and us all be the same. I am 19, I lost my friends once, I don't want to lose them again.
When such moments are hard for me, I pick up my key, put it in the lock, turn it and hang it back in its place on the wall."
I am ashamed to say that in all these years I had not thought much about the lack of windows in the tents. My own home came with much glass but all uncut, without windows that opened. I immediately brought the window man to cut the glass and open up windows. I needed not only light but air. I had not thought about the tent dwellers' predicament. I had thought about the entrance flap to the tent, the makeshift door. I had thought about the difficulty of entry, leaving one’s shoes outside on a cold or wet day, or putting the shoes directly on the inside of the door and taking up precious room and bringing water or mud inside the spotless tent. I had thought how hard it would be to get out fast in case of an emergency.
I had thought about the cold, the heat, the noise of the storm, the tents buckling under the rain and the snow. Much much about fires just waiting to break out, that ever present fear. I had thought about the cramped conditions, the lack of privacy, the effect on the psyche, but not much about the lack of a window, the ability to breathe fresh air even though it had been high on my personal priority list. I had not considered the seven year old camp smell that would of course pervade the freshly folded clothes and cling to the skin. I had not weighed in on the need for a window.
The window has brought a sense of freedom and liberty. The window opens up unseen horizons and the possibilities they hold. The window allows both openness and connectivity with a way of retreat to privacy when needed. It has provided choice and decision. The simple window represents hope and opportunity. The window is life-changing. No wonder the shattered shards of the soul become healed when a window is put in place.
My prayer this week is that we will be keys, doors and windows for those in need, and like the windows of heaven, they will swing wide and pour out their blessings.