Some time ago, the Syrian moms of the camp requested a kindergarten for their children. Now, we celebrate the first class graduating, a kindergarten that is much more than an escape from the everyday struggle to survive.
This week we had the joy of graduating 25 Syrian kiddies from The Rainbow Zone Kindergarten. As most of you will recall, we have been working within the Syrian community, all asylum seekers, for the past four years, our focus being on the teens who are so very special and carry their own stories, some of which I have told.
More recently the Syrian Mamas, all very education oriented, came asking for a kindergarten as a preparation for school. We were actually reluctant to listen to them and part with our teens, but we gave it a shot, as they say, and on the way became overwhelmed by the opportunity to invest in these young lives.
Some of our 5 year olds were born in Syria and came to Kurdistan in the last year when parents fled for their lives. Some were born in the Kurdistan region, the first generation to be born outside Syria . All are being raised under the shadow of the atrocities suffered by the Kurdish community in Syria, the loss, the death and the weight of human devastation which our teens were able to express more than eloquently in their artwork.
We are new at kindergartens, but then we are new at everything we do, so it is a wonderful journey of adventure for us all, children and staff alike. For the Syrian kiddies, it is the first time to leave the very protective Mamas’ side. Mamas who have kept their children safe within their shadow and have sometimes taken the bullet as they lead them through death.
Mamas who once again, locked their windows and barricaded themselves and their families in as the threat of a new and unseen enemy approached, namely COVID 19. Mamas who have sacrificed much to see their children now safe in a kindergarten doing what kids of their age should do, being loved and nurtured with tenderness and in safety.
COVID 19 carried much fear into the community, during the days of lockdown it gave us time to think of ways to encourage both our kiddies and their watchful Mamas. A full graduation ceremony, gowns, caps, certificates and of course the obligatory super sweet gooey cake.
A trip was made into the city, with a search for graduation caps and gowns to honor our little big people. We came back quite a few hours later tired but satisfied with our purchases.
And from here, I hand the real story over to Mr. Love himself, Shex Khalid, and the wonderful Sahla and Kajen, whose hearts grow and expand daily as each child finds his special place in their hearts.
“The Rainbow Zone kindergarten is very important in the lives of our Syrian community. It is a struggling, disadvantaged community with unaddressed social needs and internal community and family pressures. The psychological needs of these young children can not be underestimated, each one is living under the shadow of death. Covid 19 has brought even more fear and isolation to these young children who were already isolated.
Our role is both to prepare them for school, and to integrate them into the community, to help them make friends, to lead them out of shyness and fear. Before we teach them anything, we have to prepare a safe place for them, based upon love and respect, upon listening and giving them dignity and opportunity. The opportunity cruelly taken from them by the war in Syria.
We are so glad to be given a chance, and the trust of the families to reverse some of the effects of war. We can not eradicate either personal or family memories but we can help the children to create restorative healthy memories that will become the building blocks for their future years. I wish to thank the Syrian community for accepting and trusting us with their precious children.
It was my heart’s desire to make graduation a very special day. Their community has suffered so much destruction so this was one way to bring them together, all wearing the same clothes, all unified, a community becoming strong and moving ahead together. Their smiles of joy and pride were dancing on their lips. Both the children and their parents will always remember this day, the day when life came back to them, when they were dressed with all the respect and dignity of graduates. This was a day celebrating both individual accomplishment and bringing healing and respect to the community.“
- Shex Khalid
“I have a vision for our Syrian Kindergarten community. Before we teach our children even one letter of the alphabet, it must be a home where each one is loved, each one is respected and each one is encouraged to develop to the fullest potential.
Our goal is to promote positive growth in their lives, to help develop their social, their emotional and physical abilities. These are children who carry many hidden internal scars. The scars from war. It would not be right to ignore these scars in favour of teaching at them from a white board. Preparation for school is so much about the healing of hearts, and the smoothing of scars. Each child is unique, and each child is special and they need to know this above all else.
We work with the families. The Mamas often come to hang out with us and we welcome that. Growth is an individual and group process. Healing often comes to the Mamas through their children.
It is always so hard to see the children leave. It was important for us to celebrate this next step for them, to encourage them to embrace a new part of their journey. The cap and the gown symbolise how special and valuable this day is, one to always remember, a milestone of achievement in their young life. “
- Sahla Jassm
“ The Rainbow Zone is a different world. It is entering into and embracing the simplicity of the mind and heart of a young child. A world where they take delight from the most simple of things, a world where they laugh and smile, where their chat is no longer about life on the run but about eating, and playing and sleeping. The concerns and pressures of their family are pushed aside as they cross our gates into our world of safety and tranquility.
I think that the preschool stage is even more important than school. I see that the time we have with them is foundational for all the coming years of education, going way beyond teaching them to read and write. It’s the time to build their confidence, to give them tools for success. To free them from their baggage and help them to express themselves, to give them the freedom and confidence to share their ideas, to validate their opinions and build their mental abilities.
We are proud and honored to be a part of their young lives and journey. Our formal graduation was a way of confirming who they are and their achievements. They felt so grown up when they wore their cap and gown. It was a sending out into their next stage of life."
- Kajen Zerevan
We so deeply value the parents, many of whom have crossed our threshold with faces bearing tangible fear and suspicion. Who are we, not Syrians? What are our values? How will we treat their children? Within a couple of weeks they return, beaming with piles of freshly cooked maklouba and cookies, cross cultural barriers have gone and friendships formed for life.
To invite the Mamas for graduation was a high priority. It reflects their journey as much as that of their children.
The following quotes are some of their very excited comments as they sat around chatting after our graduation ceremony, so very reluctant to go home.
“Our social situation is so very hard so the opening of The Rainbow Zone was like a ray of sunshine piercing the clouds of darkness. It is the most beautiful start that I could imagine for our children. Light and hope poured into the hearts of our children and they began to heal.
They have received so much love, so much attention. The love that they have received from their teachers is now blooming in their heart and their lives have changed. It is so beautiful to behold. They return home with beaming faces and sparkling eyes. The light has come back into their eyes.
They have learned both patience, persistence and determination in order to achieve their dreams. They have learned to work together as a team and to support each other and cooperate with each other.
My daughter was like a pale, lifeless flower when she first went to Springs of Hope Foundation. She has become full of vitality and life. She is full of color now and this delights my heart. There is no kindergarten, no place like Springs of Hope Foundation. Even if we had the money to pay for a private kindergarten, we could not find such a place.
We here in the Syrian community know that children are a blessing from God. If we want to preserve this blessing, then the place to send our children is a place where they will grow in this blessing. That is Springs of Hope Foundation."
- Diyari, mother of Birya
"The Rainbow Zone Kindergarten is characterised by its simplicity and the very strong bond of love and relationship between the children and the teachers. It is characterised by a purity of love that we will not find elsewhere. It has made its mark for life on their souls. Their souls are changed.
This strong bond and trust is the platform for preparing the children both socially and psychologically for life and for school. The teachers give the children a toolbox of skills that will help them to deal with their external environment , with learning and with their peers.
I wish that Springs of Hope Foundation would open a school."
- Mofeda, mother of Maryam
"A thousand thanks upon your heads to each one of you here in The Rainbow Zone and at Springs of Hope Foundation for all that you have done for our children.
I can not compare Springs of Hope Foundation with any other place because my children have never been to kindergarten but I know one thing, that life is very hard for our children, conditions are hard, every day is a struggle to survive and go on, but the kindergarten is heaven for them. If it is heaven for them, it is heaven for me. It is a place of love and peace and happiness for them.
Other mothers tell me that there is no place like this. I know that it is a family and that is so important to our children who have lost so many family members. I also now see the huge gap and the difference between children who have come to Springs of Hope Foundation and those who have not. Those who have been in the kindergarten know how to interact with others, have self discipline, know when to get up in the morning, how to manage their time, they have become self reliant, determined and committed. Wherever they go in life they will always carry the heaven on earth that they found here."
- Loreen, mother of Jan
Life is cyclical. One season ends and a new one begins. We have registered 35 new Syrian kiddies, their Mamas coming with hesitant smiles, saying “ We heard that …” We check their UN documents, their status is clearly printed “Asylum Seeker”. Their future is unknown, dependent upon the compassion and justice (or lack thereof) of governments and politics. For now they are with us, surrounded by love and compassion, neither of which are romantic ideas but are actions of courage. We are actors in their present. We pray for their future.
When five years ago, I became familiar with the real life stories of our Syrian Kurdish community, their escape from starvation, chemicals and bullets, there was one Biblical verse that stood out in my mind.
“Do not stand idly by while your neighbour’s blood is shed“
- Leviticus 19. 16.
We thank G-d for the opportunity to stand in the blood of our neighbors and friends, to get our feet stained and help pour fresh oil upon open bleeding wounds. To become family to the outcasts.