People who work with traumatized children use artwork to help them communicate. Drawing helps the child express those things that defy words. In the Syrian refugee camps in Turkey, aid workers are finding that some of the children have a new way of expressing what they have seen – they took photographs.
Fourteen-year-old Emel explains, “These pictures show what I saw. I have seen these scenes with my own eyes.” She is pointing to the colored pencil drawings that are pinned on a board next to the photos of dead bodies, blood pooling on the street, men who were alive in one frame and shot in the next. Emel, her siblings and parents, are from the town of Jisr al-Shughour, in the Idlib province near the Turkish border, like most of the 12,000 refugees now living in Turkey. Ten thousand are registered in camps, the others live outside, with relatives or in rented housing.
One tent in Emel’s camp is set up as a classroom and exhibition space for the children’s photos and drawings. It is a healing place, a place for the children to talk about what they have seen and lived through. Emel described the day the soldiers came.
“We were sitting at home. Nobody was outside. The streets were completely empty. Then we heard a noise and we knew the fighting had started. At first, when I saw the soldiers, I thought good things were happening, but then I saw them shooting at people and I knew it was bad. They are killing our brothers right in front of us, old and young. Who in the world kills a child?”
The al-Assad regime, as the last report from Marie Colvin showed just yesterday.
Emel said she cries every day, but she is not afraid anymore. “We try to help each other by talking to each other about what we have seen. But sometimes the other children get so upset they cannot even come to class.”
The parents in the camps are trying very hard to create a normal life for their children in the tent cities. The younger ones seem to have adjusted the best, as they always do. But some of the boys were seen marching through the camp shouting political slogans, imitating their elders.
There are many in America and Europe who refuse to believe the reports from the citizen journalists who have been our only source of information from Syria. They say the reports that are printed in the Western press are liberal and biased. They prefer to believe Bashar al-Assad and his claim that the whole thing is an Islamist terror plot driven from outside his country instead of a revolt of a people whose plea for democracy he ignored. These children had no political agenda. They are children. They watched people being shot. They saw bodies left lying in the street because it wasn’t safe to retrieve them. They saw things, real-life things we wouldn’t let our children see in movies. So, who is to be believed – Bashar al-Assad who claims that the parents of a tortured, murdered boy told him the boy died in an accident, or the person with the cell phone who recorded the injuries to the dead boy’s body?
These children in the camps in Turkey are safe. They are being guided through their traumas and helped to heal, helping each other heal. They are the lucky ones.