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The Body Shop for Broken Cars

Do you remember going to a supermarket with a super clear list in hand, yet walking out with a totally different purchase, asking yourself how on earth that happened, and not so pleased? That’s how we got War City, our community centre for the Syrian community. By getting the shopping list wrong, or so we thought back then.

We, to be honest, were not looking for it, we did not want it, we wanted land inside Shariya camp. The Government gave us War City, another “Handle with Care” package. It sat on our shelf for a while as it came without instructions. One day we realized that we had to take it down off the shelf, and unpack it. That was the day we fell in love with this beautiful Syrian community and have done life with them ever since.

Today we share our ongoing journey with them, both the kindergarten kids who are simply the sweetest ever, and the teens who refused to go home and have stayed. Our journey together is rare and special, it's the braiding of two persecuted people groups, the Yezidis with the Syrians, it's a braiding for life, joining two communities together for a common future.

I have probably shared how initially we were not welcomed into the Syrian community, treated with suspicion. We were not Syrian, not Muslim, not wearing the hijab, we were under the magnifying glass of the parents, who desperately wanted education for the children, but not if it conflicted with their values or traditions, one of them being co-ed classrooms and paddling pools in summer.

The first four months were somewhat of pushing through heaving mud, till finally our orange door opened and the parents flooded in, their smiles beaming through their scarves, thanking us for building trust and confidence, and saying that they indeed trusted us with their children. From that day on, plates of cookies and candies sent by parents have started every day.

The opening of the Hope Kindergarten was the ultimate way into this actually warm community, made up of Kurdish asylum seekers from Syria and Arabs displaced from Mosul.

I quote our wonderful Shex Khalid, our Director in The Rainbow Zone:

“Our real engagement and acceptance into the community began when we opened the kindergarten. The work with the teens was providing them with a solution in the after school hours so that their kids would not be on the streets, but acceptance came with the kindergarten for 45 kids, most of them coming with physical challenges or carrying the trauma of the family displacement from their home land.

As well as teaching the kindergarten kids, Arabic and English, we are preparing them for life. Teaching them when to go to sleep, when to wake up, how to be on time for the centre. We teach them how to integrate into school life, how to respect themselves and others. How to conquer their shyness, how to let Mama go home with the confidence that she really will be there outside the gate at the end of the day. We taught them how to see a plane in the sky without having a panic attack. We have taught them to eat their food when served and not keep it in case there will be no food tomorrow, or the next day.

"I remember Shexo, so shy, so scared of himself even. Scared of his shadow, scared of everything. Same with Nasrin and Alin whose levels of fear were off the radar. You can't even teach the alphabet until conquering the fear barrier.

"Then we had Roslyn who would not let her mother out of her sight for a second, she was so scared that she would never return. Both Mama and daughter would cry every morning. Little Hamalin was a small person with a giant sized personality who needed reassurance and the opportunity to shine. Hevron who was always alone and would never participate, how hard it was to find the key to drawing him in. Oh, each child has his own special story.

Layla and the other Down’s syndrome kids, the kids with the holes in their heart, the epileptic kids, all relegated to the periphery of society by the tender age of 4 but whose families recognized our love and care and trusted them to us. The list is long, Talin who had not spoken a word until she came to us, it took months of silence and then that first word came. We are like the body shop for broken cars. They come as they are, they get loved on and loved on, given respect, acceptance,dignity, more than equal opportunity, guided into believing in their abilities and off they go, no longer broken shards, shadows of themselves but champions.