With a brutal crackdown on peaceful protests, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government lighted the fuse to which has now become a decade-old conflict, leaving hundreds of thousands of people dead and millions displaced.
Meryem is one of them, a girl who was born in 2011, just around the days when the civil war broke out.
With the best years of her childhood taken away from her because of the war, Meryem is now in Turkey, studying in fifth grade while trying to live life as normally as possible.
Meryem is one of the beneficiaries of Al-Farah Children and Family Support Center in Ankara. The center operates under the partnership of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (ASAM).
Meryem was born in Damascus, where her parents were trying to keep their children safe.
“Back then, we were dealing with very difficult times. Both our children and we were very afraid of the bombs. We do not remember how we raised our children,” Meryem’s mother, Afraa Baker, told Hürriyet Daily News.
‘Good people of the good country’
Meryem’s family decided to move to Lebanon later, but they continued to face difficulties there as well. Finally, they came to Turkey in 2015.
Baker said that even though they could not speak Turkish at that time, they were able to communicate through the language of “empathy.”
“God helped us meet good people of the good country,” she said.
Baker said that Meryem learned Turkish after she started going to school, and that she helped them to learn the language as well by practicing with them.
“Her teachers were very supportive of this. I also went to a Turkish course open for women. My daughter and I helped each other a lot,” she said.
Baker is a housewife, while her husband is a laborer. She hopes for her children to have a better future than them.
“The most important thing is for [our children] to get an education. Their efforts should not go to waste,” she said.
Sharing her school experiences, Meryem said that she found mathematics and English as the easiest subjects of all.
“When I first started school, my friends were mostly Syrians, but later I made a lot of Turkish friends,” she added.
Inspired by her teacher, Meryem said that she wants to become a teacher when she grows up.
Emine Engür, the manager of the support center, said that they work to create a safer environment for asylum seekers and fulfill the needs of refugee families and their children.
“We aim to prevent children affected by the Syrian War from becoming a lost generation,” she said.
Women like Meryem’s mother vividly remember the war. One of them is Kawthar Hamo, a 43-year-old Syrian woman who also found refuge in Turkey eight years ago. Her story began in Aleppo, but now she resides in Turkey’s Aegean province of İzmir, where she volunteers to sew masks for children in İzmir’s Al-Farah Children and Family Support Center.
“When we came to Turkey, people were very good to us. They shared us their food and drinks,” Hamo said, adding that she felt safe in Turkey.
“I was tired back then, and I didn’t want to do anything because of what I went through. But now, if you ask me, I know what I want to do and feel more powerful,” she said.
When asked if what her life would be like without the war, Hamo said: “My life would be more difficult, but I would still do my work and maybe work for women in Syria. I would make them aware of their rights.”
Hamo also highlighted that in the events organized by the Women Hand in Hand Committee, which is supported by ASAM, they sew free masks for children in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking to Hürriyet Daily News, Esra Şimşir, ASAM’s coordinator for the Aegean region, said that asylum seekers and migrant women face a lot of obstacles during the migration process, adding that success stories similar to Hamo inspire many others as they become role models who can stand on their own feet.
As the war continues to affect millions of people, Turkey is rendering continuous support to help Syrians in many areas. Apart from hosting millions of Syrians in the country, Turkey’s Red Crescent (Kızılay) has lent a helping hand to Syrians, especially during the ongoing pandemic.
Hurriyet Daily News