If you think about it, kids were the more recent people to hang out with God and so we should respect them, value them, not like smaller adults but more like if they were the best versions of humanity.

                                                                        – Jerome Jarre

totally aware that not all of these are photos of children, but I’m so in love with the aforementioned and find it quite fitting. Still having warm fuzzies about all of it, but there’s always that extra something about the people you meet (and smother with hugs) in certain places. That in-explainable tug at the strings of your heart&soul which concludes with a massive drawn out sigh on my part because I want to go back! Until then though, I hope you fall as in love with these as I have xx

If you’re ever on any type of deployment or volunteer gig which includes people, human beings, and you’re told not to interact with those people because that’s not what you’re here for, do.not.listen.

You might be someplace to help with infrastructure, deliver medical aid, or work on a conservation project etc., but not hugging or speaking to even one local person is a missed opportunity at creating human connection. How else are you to fathom what someone’s gone through, or what they are in need of? For us to simply enter unknown territory and deliver boxes of food because we want to ‘help’, but don’t want to even attempt to understand how those we’re here to help have come to such a point in their lives to require said ‘help’ is a shittier form of colonialism in my opinion.

To presume that ones physical presence as a result of where you come from (‘First World’) is more than enough and that that alone should speak volumes unto an oppressed or already victimized peoples is probably the massivest load of bollocks I could ever think of. You are present as a result of your privilege. As a result of chance and circumstance. Nothing more, nothing less. As humans its in our nature to feel things, sadness, hurt, anger, love, regardless of where you come from, and that’s the beauty of having a heart isn’t it? Allowing it to feel and permeate into the depths of each others souls without using words. Our hearts speak the same language but more importantly our souls share the same voice x

We visited a few villages today where people who’ve already registered with SKT come to pick up their boxes. Each person is notified beforehand be it via text or word of mouth about the upcoming drop-off where they must bring/show a form of ID alongside an SKT registration card. It’s overwhelming seeing mothers with baby in hand, toddler waddling close behind and trying to balance this pretty heavy box on her head as though it’s no big deal, but you know she hasn’t got a choice because that box literally contains her bread and butter until the next drop-off (fyi some of us did carry them all the way home to help because duh.)

Also saw a different side to the cute ickle kids which I think was a bit of a shock to some of the others lol kids are kids no matter where in the world and will forever go mad over sweets. Even more so when they’re from a foreign land and it ended up being super mob-like with a few tears and lots of pushings etc. but I’d like to think everyone at least got something x

Evening ended with visits to local families who suffer from various illnesses or disabilities as a result of the war whom SKT also provide assistance too. One of the men we met was paralyzed from the waist down and suffers from cancer; his 17-year-old son has had to drop out of school in order to tend to his father. Another family had 4 children between the ages of 24 and 30 more or less in a vegetable state literally sprawled across the room unable to walk, speak, eat on their own, absolutely nothing and completely dependent upon their parents for survival. That was hard to see, and again how does one even attempt to console or see the good in that situation. Of course you well up but what good are my tears. You can’t help but be in awe of and make silent dua for the immense patience instilled in mothers and fathers to both accept an expected fate, and do the best they can within their means for the sake of that love for ones family and children.

One more day left and I’m trying not to think about leaving. I’m taking it all in, every second, every persons face I kiss, every embrace and cuddle, and I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to go back and simply define all of this as an ‘experience’ because it’s so much more than that x

 

Today was one of those days that will forever be engrained in my mind. The day I was literally so close yet so far away from Syria, probably the closest I’ll ever get to it in my entire life, and the day I was confronted with physical displacement as a result of the war.

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We visited a few more schools today to deliver food packages and were able to sit in on classes and interact with the children. For those of you who might be new here, I’m a primary school teacher and so the classroom is one of my many homes. You’re probably aware of me feeling some kind of way about children, and the feeling is pretty mutual when it comes to education.

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What I found myself reflecting upon had nothing to do with my current location or the refugee children, but rather the obnoxious privilege so many in the ‘first world’ entertain when it comes to education. Specifically this whole ‘back-to-school’ thing where hundreds of dollars are spent on paper and books and stationary and matching bags with light up shoes and new clothes and the list is really freaking endless! I’m discovering that I’ve got an issue with the term ‘privilege’ and how it is both defined and acted upon by different people.

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The organization also assists with a Quranic school so that students can continue their religious education as they did in Syria. Students from the Springs of Hope center attend at different times and we managed to catch some boys who were super eager to showcase their recitation skills.

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I was able to talk myself into a few homes (for hugs and pictures of course), and managed to secure a ‘flayflay’ (red chili) and a branch from an olive tree. The warmth and kindness of the Syrian people exudes this genuine heartfelt goodness and kindness which is so beautiful. They want to talk to you and with you and hold your hand and perhaps just turn the world off for a mere 5 minutes to engross themselves with a ‘too-reest’. And I want to sit and have tea with each and everyone one of them, and hear their stories, and give my undivided attention solely to them as though no one else in the world matters at all, and I promise I try my bestest to do so but its impossible to do so.

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I’ve begun to consistently wander off, within reason of course, when we arrive at a new place because I want to physically reach out to as many people as possible and make the most of me being here. And I may look a bit craycray hugging and kissing all these children but their presence alone is a massive blessing, a symbol of survival and hope for a better future. Hope is a finicky entity because it either makes or breaks a person. It has the potential to uplift and grant its holder blind faith that something better is coming, that everything terrible up until this point is in preparation for goodness, but you’ve got to be headstrong and ensure that that faith never wavers. Which is unbelievably difficult when you’re surrounded by people who have faith yet have been waiting ages for its results to pan out. When the next person is in just a dire situation as I am, if not worse, yet I’m still meant to remain steadfast in hope for a light at the end of the tunnel. The tunnel which appears to never end. I don’t get it.

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I don’t think any of us were prepared, mentally and emotionally, for our visit to the refugee camps. I envisioned tents, organized systematic rows of sandy-beige tents with enough space to house a family of 5-6.

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A compound. A freaking compound consisting of a few concrete slab shacks fitted with a roof of tarp. No set of flats or 21st century living structures, just tarp, wood, and concrete. Remember when you’d go camping or even make a play fort at home with a massive curtain draped in no particular way so long as it somewhat covered the top bit? Envision that, ever so slightly bigger, and then a family of 5 or more permanently residing underneath. That’s home. That space which is smaller than most of our personal bedrooms is the kitchen, living room, main room, nursery, bedroom etc. with no real address, is home. And its heartbreaking. I hardly think anyone would willingly opt to live under such circumstances, and again what I can’t wrap my head around is that it wasn’t always like this! These people weren’t born into it, nor it being a life or lifestyle they chose in pursuit of attaining something more than, they literally had no choice! Imagine the state of despair having to make that crucial decision from living in fear of death by war, to what exactly? Living? This isn’t living. Nobody in this day and age should be subjected to, and expected to lead a life based solely upon survival of the fittest nor under such conditions.

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I think it affected us all in different ways, more so because no one has ever experienced anything like it before. Although I was able to debrief my feelings and experience with a couple people I’ve become friends with, and I know mama is always there to listen to my stories, I do wish we as a group had the opportunity to sit and talk about all of it. Both prior to, and post. To help make sense of such a significant shared experience which I’m sure we’re all a little distraught over. The time spent at those particular camps is the closest we’ve been to the border crossing thus far. Imagine waking up every morning, being able to physically see your homeland, your home and entire state of belonging, knowing you have loved ones right over that fence, and unable to do anything about it. If that isn’t the utmost description of helplessness, I don’t know what is. So close yet so far away.

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We head to a few more camps tomorrow, and although we have a better idea of what we might see, its what we can’t unsee which I’m afraid of. Please keep each and every one of these people, and all those around the world who are in similar, if not worse situations in your thoughts and prayers. Give if you can, pray if you can, go if you can. But we must do something. Quietly. Not for us, but for them. xo

Again, do stay posted on instagram/instastory here for videos of the area and speakings with the refugees who share their stories. just for an added bit of live insight if anything x

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This morning began with the return to the warehouse where we completed the remaining boxes. Yesterday I had made friends with some of the neighbors and kinda sorta promised one of the mums Id definitely stop by today for some tea. Arab hospitality is always Arab hospitality lol in that its never ‘just’ tea haha she proceeded to explain to me what mashawee was (stuffed eggplant) which she had made for me and insisted I stay for lunch. Unfortunately couldn’t stay long enough, but was able to hang out with them over some Turkish qahwa.

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The family’s been in Turkey since 2015 after their house was struck by a bomb. All 6 members of the family were home during that time and the oldest son who was only 16 was killed. Baba also severely damaged his right knee which prevents him for being able to work much here in Turkey. I was shown a video of their son after the attack, a lifeless body covered in blood, eyes and mouth wide open, the faintest murmur of voices and prayers in the background as though this was a usual occurrence and simply just another unfortunate life lost. There’s a problem with that. When the death of a 16-year-old, a child, renders no reaction or immediate emotional uproar as though death via a bomb strike is ‘normal’, I find it disgustingly unacceptable. This cutie Fattousha was born in Turkey, and mama insisted I take one or all her babies with me presumably in hope of better opportunities available to her children.

Headed to the rehabilitation centers who are regular recipients of the SKT food packages in the afternoon, and I don’t think my heart expected to feel what it felt. I haven’t quite been able to define exactly what emotion ran through my soul and it isn’t something I’ve felt before. I’m a super emotional and touchy-feely-huggy person who’ll either feel everything ten-fold or nothing at all (more-so the former than the latter), and my heart didn’t know what to do. At each of the 5 centers we stopped at, we were able to hear from some of those physically affected by the war and I don’t know what words of comfort silly little me could possibly offer to make things the slightest bit okay.

Men who are physically unable to walk anymore and who haven’t seen their wives and children for 5 years. Men missing complete limbs, or waking up 3 months later in Turkey only to learn that his wife and 2 kids are dead. I asked him whether he would return back to Syria, whether his heart would always yearn for his country, and I’ve been asking this to many people I meet. The answers have varied, some adamant that Syria is their ‘wataniy’, their homeland and of course their hearts ache for the land they come from, whilst others state that this is safer for their children and families. This particular mans answer had me get up and leave the room because I didn’t want to get super emotional and make everything, make him uncomfortable, but he said ‘for what? I have nothing. I have no one. My mother and father are dead. I have no wife or children. I don’t have anything’.

There was a women’s rehabilitation center we stopped by as well which houses about 20 women and their children, all who are in need of medical attention. The general atmosphere in all the places we visited has been one of a hushed despair masked by multiple ‘inshallahs’ and an unconvincing façade of hope. And I’m unsure as to whether it’s simply to convince us or themselves, but my heart is having a real hard time trying to see past it.

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Our final stops appeared to be in an area occupied by recent refugees. I have to keep reminding myself I’m in Turkey because wallahi I feel like I’m in Syria. And I’ve never been to Syria. The organization has a database established via a ‘need’ basis upon which they determine which families and facilities receive the food packages. I don’t know what part of my heart or brain had to be switched off when neighboring mothers, fathers, and children approached me to ask for a box with open arms, telling me that they’re also Syrian with 10 kids at home, or a sick child, and just as deserving of assistance.

And I know that they are! My heart knows it so so badly and I have to pretend like I don’t see the despair in their faces for the fact that they literally need to ask for help, something, anything, to bring temporary ease to their lives and their family. It tugs at your heart strings like nothing I’ve ever felt before and you feel like the shittiest person on the bloody planet. Because I’m here thinking I’m doing something but am I really? Or am I helping myself? How is me feeling bad and my heart hurting helping make a difference in their lives?

This jiddha (grandmother) told me of her 2 sons who died in an air strike as everyone was sleeping, showing me their ID cards, evidently all she had left to remember them by. What am I supposed to say to console her? There is nothing more frustrating than being unable to do absolutely nothing, say absolutely nothing to relieve the pain of someone. To erase the bad memories from their minds and make their hearts okay.

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I hug because that’s all I can do, and I pray so much that the tight embrace we share for just half a minute transfers all the love and light in the world to them letting them know that they are loved beyond belief. That I genuinely wish nothing but light and goodness to come their way so tears may never return to their faces, so that their hearts may never undergo a hurt like which they have experienced, and that so many of their brothers and sisters around the world are praying day and night for them, and for everyone afflicted by war, pain, and poverty to be relieved of it all so very soon inshallah x

If I could give massive hugs to each and every one of you who took time out of your super busy lives to message me, comment on the work that’s being done, read my postings, shared my postings, etc etc etc., trust me I would! It makes my heart and soul so happy that loads of you are being touched by the work SKT are doing on the grounds and wanting to know how to get involved which is amazing! I promise sometime this week I’ll have an extra post focused solely on how one goes about volunteering with SKT for the Reyhanli deployment specifically as a bit of a guide for those interested! X

Today was packing day and what an experience! We were driven to a nearby warehouse where the SKT Turkey team store food items and boxes; rows of massive white boxes were already aligned waiting for us upon arrival (empty of course!) We were given a demonstration on how to pack the items so as to avoid over-spillage and I guess just ensuring everything fit comfortably!  The contents of the parcels vary based on the region from which SKT is operating from whilst still sticking to basic staples most households will most likely be in need of. Each of our boxes were to contain the following:

  • Bottle of olive oil
  • Bottle of sunflower oil
  • Tin of tomato paste
  • 4 bags of rice
  • 2 bags of barley
  • 2 bags of flour
  • 1 packet of brown lentils
  • 1 packet of red lentils
  • 2 bags of sugar
  • 1 box of tea
  • 1 packet of vermicelli
  • 1 packet of zaatar
  • 1 packet of sweets
  • 1 packet of balloons (for Eid!)

 

I’m not the strongest person I know; ya’anee sometimes I can’t open the cap to plastic water bottles lol so certain things were a tad heavy for me but promise no one would be guessed because I troopered on haha we had set up a bit of a production line and had local volunteers from SKT Turkey assisting as well which was SUCH a big help! Carrying heavy loads, literally ripping open boxes in no time (no x-acto knife was used) just to make our lives a bit easier was a god sent. After all items were added, we taped them shut, had them loaded into the next room ready for our distribution later in the week, had a bit of a break, and started all over again!

I mentioned yesterday that our total goal for this deployment was 2400 boxes, so 1200 today and 1200 tomorrow. We worked on 200 boxes at once, and managed to complete 1600 by the 8pm stop time which was great! We’re back at it in the morning for the remainder but this way it’s definitely lightened the load for us a bit!

(empty boxes I promise!)

I kept envisioning how it must be like for a family, large or small, to receive and depend upon this mere box of a few items as a means to their survival. How we take for granted the ability to pop into the shops or grocery store on a whim to grab a loaf of bread, or if milks run out in the morning we know the place round the corner is open 24hours so you’re fine to grab it in the evening. To be able to choose what we want to consume depending on what day of the week and how we feel, and on top of that, the specific freaking branding we ‘only’ eat…really y’all?! I’m nowhere near perfect in any way, shape, or form, and promise I’ll be the first to admit my flaws (yes Iman I know I’m picky about how I like my tea!), but we are so unbelievably blessed and lucky to have the ability and freedom to make a simple choice, yet how often are we grateful for it? I feel as though it just comes as second nature to us because it’s how things have always been, and when something is a constant in your life its hard to imagine life without it or in a different way, but being thankful, void of religious beliefs, genuinely acknowledging in your heart and soul that you’re a bloody lucky duck is something we should all make a habit of doing.

The innate human desire within all of us to help and offer assistance to someone or to a cause in whatever way we can, is something I’ve noticed within SKT. Be it via the people I’ve met, from members to volunteers, and what I’ve read up about them, everyone is in it because they want to make a positive difference in the lives of the Syrian refugees. Refugees who weren’t always refugees. They had lives prior to this, prior to the war and injustice which was by no fault of their own, and I hardly think any one of them envisioned a future in which their homeland was obliterated, and ‘home’ itself became a questionable unknown. I feel it more when I see the children around me (surely by now you must have figured out I’m a massive fan of little humans and their naïve lust of living such a beautiful and carefree life) but I see them and MY silly privileged first-world 26-year old adult self doesn’t want to think about what they might have endured, let alone what they must be going through. I don’t want it to come off as though I’m painting everyone I meet or the children I’ve come across with the same miskeen, unfortunate circumstance paintbrush, but to be honest it’s a reality for many here in Reyhanli. I can legit see the Syrian border from the hotel, and fact is that many of those who fled did so via the Turkish/Syrian border, which enters into Reyhanli (google it and you’ll see how close it is to the border!); it’s also apparently been dubbed as ‘Little Syria’ by some due to the influx. When I’m finished hugging and kissing the cheeks off my new tiny human friends, I ask them where they’re from (all have said Syria), how long they’ve been here, if they’re here with family or not etc. specifically to avoid projecting my own biases and perhaps false misconceptions about their current plight.

I’ve strayed from what I wanted to say lol but SKT being here and assisting in whatever way they can is affecting the lives of so many people Alhamdulillah and that’s all one could ask for. Their purpose is one which unites people, volunteers from around the world to provide assistance and do their part for humanity, however big or small it may be, and that’s a freaking beautiful thing x

My feet are super sore and tired lol for some reason whenever I travel and am in need of comfortable footwear, it never happens and no matter how many plasters I apply to help the feet cuttings and rubbings, it’s all a blady fail lol

I’m also posting videos and snapshots of our day on me instastory (@shazaira) so be sure to have a peep when you can! They last 24 hours so catch it while its still up! xo.