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.
Yes, we graduate our kindergarten kiddies every few months as there is such a deep need in the community that we want to give all a chance for preschool preparation but we never say goodbye. They continue to visit, we go to their homes, we visit on Eid, we remain a part of their life. Somehow we keep polishing them just a little more.”
- Shex Khalid, Director in The Rainbow Zone
“Hello there, my name is Nora, and my daughter is Lava. I am so grateful to Professor Khalid and his team for giving their best to my child. These truly were the best days of her life. I will tell you the truth about something, after Lava began school, she tortured me, she refused to go to school saying that The Rainbow Zone is my school. It took a while until she accepted that she had to go to grade 1 but she never talks about her teachers. She talks about you guys every day, you are part of her life and her memory and are very precious and important to her. Thank you for loving her so well. She and we will never forget you."
“It is important for Maryam, my daughter, to get a head start on life. We lost everything when we fled for our lives, education is the key to building a new life. It is good for her to learn that separation from family is not only a result of disaster, as her young life has taught her, but it is good and healthy and is part of her growing up, gaining self confidence and solving problems for herself, becoming self-reliant. She is learning to trust again, she will go to school prepared and confident. That pleases me and encourages me to believe that she will have a future, different from mine."
- Mama Mofida
"I want to thank the management of Springs of Hope Foundation and all the staff for opening such an amazing centre in War City. There is no other place like it. We all know the name and reputation that Springs of Hope has and it is totally justified.
I want to talk about the way that the teachers behave to our children. They all work so hard, they love without stopping and their patience never runs out. They see every single child, they see the needs of every child and they give each child according to his special needs. I come in every day, I see one busy tying a shoelace, holding a child’s hand and guiding him with the Arabic alphabet. Teaching them to pick up their bags and their belongings, helping them to go to the bathroom and wash their hands, giving each one the support system but training him to do it alone.
They see each person who needs food, who needs clothes, and with dignity they provide that. They see the needs of the parents, we too are taken care of. I have received surprise gifts that have given me such joy as it was exactly what we needed. Everything is done with love. Giving a meal, coloring, painting, learning, playing, it is all with love. Parties, Christmas, Eid, birthdays, only from love.
No matter how much I say, there will always be more. The most important is that they love well, everything is from the place of love. Thank you for loving us.”
- Akhlas, Mama of Osaed
“Our life as asylum seekers is very hard. We have lost everything and we began again here in Kurdistan with nothing. I have to work very hard, I take whatever work is available, often travelling outside the city for manual labor and day work. My wife is busy trying to make ends meet and taking care of the house and our children. I feel that our children have become victims of a cruel situation where we are not parents like we used to be in Syria. We are too busy trying to survive in the hopes that our children will have a future that is different from our life.
In my opinion the role of a teacher is vital, is central, and critical. The teachers in the Rainbow Zone have been like parents which did not make me jealous but gave me comfort and confidence that they are being very well taken care of and I don't need to worry. The love, the encouragement, helping them to believe in themselves, while learning, and playing, I have no words. I am grateful and I am proud. I go to work in peace knowing that my son, Kaiwan, is in the best hands and HIS future is already being prepared.”
- Papa Issa
“Our mornings are busy with 45 preschoolers, our afternoons with a smaller group of 15 teens who have been part of our life for five years, those who took graduation certificates but refused to go home. Our afternoons are filled with English online, art and music. Once a month our Rainbow Zone teens come to The Hope Centre, where they have made strong friendships with their Yezidi peers. Together they present art exhibitions, music recitals and just impromptu hanging out and singing together. Coexistence in action, not in dialogue.
Three years ago many of their parents would not allow them to come to our Yezidi centre, today that has changed and acceptance of the other, of the one who is different has become the norm. The values that we demonstrate inside our kindergarten and with the teens have spread into the community.”
- Shex Khalid
“Hi there, my name is Hanadi, and I was the first student in The Rainbow Zone. I remember coming over with all of my documents and registering myself. Now, several years have passed, and I am proud to say that I am blessed to be a part of this family.
I have spent the best days of my life here, making the strongest friends, new people, learning new things, discovering Kurdistan and my Yezidi friends and making many new adventures. I did not know that I have skills in art and painting until the day when I began to paint my story of how I left Syria. I discovered whether happy or sad, all my thoughts and my ideas could be turned into a painting, which also helped me to process my journey.
I love going to The Hope Centre, where I have my Yezidi friends. We make art exhibitions together and hang around the keyboard and sing. These are my very happy times.
I am grateful to Miss Lisa for showing us how to be strong, and how to grow our hearts to accept others who are different from us. Dr Saeed always encourages us to do well, to be skilled and successful, and my teachers believe in me, and they are my friends. There is no place like this. It’s home. “
“I don't remember my first day in the centre. I was overwhelmed with the peace, with the colors, with the happiness of the teachers. Everything was different, I did not know where to look first or how to take it all in. It was like stepping into a different world. It has remained a different world. It is part of War City but it is not like War City in any way. It is a place where I am valued, respected, and built up. I gain confidence in who I am, I have become optimistic about my future, I believe in myself and my skills. Teacher Khalid has become my Big Brother. Miss Lisa has taught me to be strong and courageous and that hope and love always win.” - Narmin