Smurf Centre in Za’atari Camp!

The Smurf Centre being constructed March 2019

At last, a much needed childcare centre opens in Za’atari Camp!

It was in the process of being built in March 2019 when I visited but thanks in part to great support from the SE Methodist District for the All We Can Syrian Refugee Appeal, the amazing sum of £4000 has been raised towards the project. And this has been doubled by a generous supporter to £8000 enabling even more resources for the centre.

All We Can’s local partner LWF built it next to their Peace Oasis and named it The Smurf Centre. It is the only place on this vast camp of 80,000 refugees that offers safe childcare with plenty of craft and educational classes, play, toys, games and a safe outdoor space. The camp is crowded and hardly any play areas exist where small children can have fun, so this is a great facility.

Za’atari Refugee Camp

Safe and secure childcare means that parents can be confident leaving their small children in the hands of trained volunteers to have a break for a few hours or even be free to work, if jobs are available. The centre itself was designed, built and painted by refugees and offers opportunities for other refugees to take up positions as teachers, helpers and security personnel.

Looking forward to going back to visit and seeing all the happy children enjoying this brilliant Smurf Centre!

Loss, pain and hope – two inspiring books

Enforced incapacity due to a broken ankle has given me the opportunity to read these two books. They are very different, but both reflect some of the deep physical, practical and emotional challenges facing those who have to flee their countries, and are intensely moving.

Friends from church gifted me “The Beekeeper of Aleppo”, a fictional account of a Syrian couple’s harrowing journey from Aleppo to the UK. Nuri is a beekeeper, and Afra his wife, an artist. They live a simple life surrounded by family and friends in the beautiful city of Aleppo until war destroys the city and their home and their son is killed. Afra loses her sight, Nuri is threatened by militia, and they have to leave. Their journey is full of danger, deprivation and fear, and the impact of their loss is profound. Yet Nuri and Afra keep going, in the hope of refuge in the UK with their beekeeper cousin Mustafa.

Although this is a novel, the author Christy Lefteri, herself the daughter of Cypriot refugees, writes with authenticity. She bases her book on her time working as a volunteer at a Unicef supported refugee centre in Athens.

This is a compelling story, delicately and compassionately told. Read it, and be ready to be deeply moved.

In contrast, “No longer strangers” is a true story. Written by a persecuted Christian, Javed Masih, he tells how he was forced to uproot his family from their home in Pakistan and seek asylum in the Netherlands. Throughout the hardships they experience, the inhumanity of the bureaucratic process, the emotional and practical issues they have to face every day, the family find inspiration and encouragement through their faith and the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

One example of the need for hope was when Javed, his wife Nasreen and two children found themselves at a new hostel, miserably cold and hungry in a tiny cramped room and desperately missing their home. The heating didn’t work, there was no food and Nasreen was forced to beg at reception for teabags so they could make themselves a hot drink. Then Javed reminded the family of the story of the nativity, of the lack of proper shelter and care for Mary, and Joseph. Despite the hard conditions, the glory of the birth of Jesus filled Mary and Joseph with happiness and thankfulness to God. Through the retelling of this Christian narrative, Javed and his family found hope and comfort to help them in their difficult situation.

While this book is a real and uplifting testimony to the family’s Christian faith, it is also an uncompromising account of the impersonal and often uncaring asylum process. Reading it gave me a better understanding not only of the complexities faced by asylum seekers but also of the tremendous courage and tenacity any asylum seeker needs to get through it all, whilst at the same time coping with the loss of their home, former life and country and the profound loneliness of being a stranger in a foreign land.

Europe’s “welcome” to refugees and asylum seekers has not always been wholehearted. Javed’s story shows the tremendous strength it takes to cope with a different way of life, an unknown language and a cold climate and should prompt us to do all we can to help.

World Refugee Day June 20th 2019

Singer in Za’atari Refugee Camp Jordan

Singing is therapy as well as art! I was humbled and delighted to hear these young Syrian refugees in Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan singing so beautifully together. Their teacher, a Syrian refugee himself, told me that they didn’t want to sing pop songs. Instead they chose to sing the traditional Syrian songs of their culture and homeland. They sang from the heart, a lament of exile like Psalm 137. Yet as well as sadness and pain, there was hope and shy pride shining through as they sang together.

These young people were being given an opportunity to express their feelings through music at The Peace Oasis, Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan which houses more than 80,000 Syrian refugees. Many of the families fled Syria in fear of their lives four or five years ago. Their homes and livelihoods in Syria have been destroyed by the prolonged war; parents wonder what the future holds for their children.

Since 2015 I have been visiting refugee projects in Jordan supported by All We Can (an international development and emergency relief organisation with its roots in the Methodist Church). I can testify from personal experience to the difference these projects make to the lives of refugees.

If you share my passion for this work, and want to support more young people and children by giving to All We Can, you can double your donation to the Syrian Crisis Appeal helping children in Za’atari. Thanks to a generous supporter, every £ you give will be matched by another £, up to £5000.

Go to allwecan.org.uk/refugeeweek to give online or call 0207 467 5132 and help the songs to be sung with joy! Make sure you specify the refugee appeal when you give.