Restoring hope for Syria's child refugees
"Mother, father, sister, brother, where are you? Where are you?" she sang, blushing with a shy smile that belied the sadness of her words.
"I want to see you, I want to see you, every day. Every day."
Sara lost her father in Syria, and her mother to the mental trauma that followed. Swept from her homeland, she is one of Syria's two million or so refugee children living in neighbouring countries.
Along with her four siblings, she now resides at the Beity orphanage in Reyhanli, Turkey, a home for children orphaned by the ongoing conflict.
Set up by the Maram Foundation, a charity for Syrian refugees, the Beity orphanage is a home in every sense; a place for Syrian refugee children to reclaim the childhood that was violently snatched away.
Since opening six months ago, the home ensures that the children have things that many refugees are deprived of, from the warmth of a clean bed to access to an education.
Mornings at Beity are animated by the frenzy of the school rush, its young residents eagerly preparing for a day of study whilst the toddlers remain behind to play. Its evenings are scented by the aromas of freshly cooked Syrian meals, flavours from a place that the children are perhaps too young to remember; mujadara, maqlooba, freshly baked khobez.
|Sara lost her father in Syria, and her mother to the mental trauma that followed.|
"This place is different," said Yakzan Shishakli, director of the Maram Foundation.
"They feel like they are home. They come inside and they don't feel shy. And the treatment, I'm sorry to say, is better than home."
The truth behind Yakzan's words is easily apparent. Children frequently climbed into his arms, their faces lit as if they had been reunited with Baba. Sara mischievously grinned as her friend Hala pulled on his beard.
The other staff members, many refugees themselves, are often found cradling and tirelessly playing with the children as their own.
The joy of the children at Beity, however, is only a testament to the progress achieved by its dedicated family of volunteers. Beneath many of the smiles are deep scars, the mental wounds caused by the trauma of war.
Many of the children have seen its terrors firsthand, others witnessed the desperate acts their surviving parents had turned to in order to make ends meet.
After fleeing Syria, some also found themselves alone and vulnerable, in homes where they were neglected or abused.
Sara's oldest sister Dena came to Beity with her body covered in black and blue bruises after being bitten by a former guardian. Fortunately for the young siblings, the Beity home ensures they receive medical care as well as help for dealing with mental trauma.
|The Beity orphanage has given Sara [2L] and her
friends a chance to play again [Muslim Aid]
Among the laughing and smiling children was a boy whose shifting expressions, from anxious smiles to nervous looks of confusion, told of a deeply troubled past.
Omar, who is eight, was a victim of physical abuse and was exposed to alcoholism and other ills after losing his father. "I like to play with toy bricks," Omar said nervously.
When asked what he built with them, however, his answer revealed how even the innocent play of a child was tainted by exposure to the horrors of war. "Roosia [Russia]," he responded. "Roosia," Omar later explained, was a reference to the rifles he had seen the adults carrying in the area he once lived in.
Despite an immensely difficult start, however, there is much hope for Omar. "He's one of our best kids," said Miada Abdi, Beity's Centre Manager. "He is progressing a lot and we are proud of him."
As well as helping the children to overcome their troubles, the Beity home also gives them a chance to achieve their ambitions.
Ruba is one of the home's eldest children, a girl whose eyes shine with optimism and strength. "I lost my dad, I lost my mum and a lot of my family in Syria," said the 13-year-old.
"I get a lot of love and affection from the staff here at Beity and thats why I love them."
With the dream of becoming a doctor when she is older, Ruba finds the help she needs in the place she now calls home. "If I don't understand any work from school, I bring my books back to Beity and the teachers here always help and explain in a way that is easy for me to understand.
"When I was young my dad was ill before he died, he used to say to me 'grow up quickly, I want you to become a doctor one day'... He gave me the affection that I couldn't get from my mum because she died when I was very young," Ruba continued as her eyes began to reveal some of the pain that she bore inside. "That's why I love him and remember him all the time."
|Beneath many of the smiles are deep scars, the mental wounds caused by the trauma of war.|
The realisation of all these aspirations lies at the end of a long and difficult road.
With the lives of Syria's refugees hanging in uncertainty, the children of Beity are among a fortunate few who are still able to attend school and regain some semblance of normality.
For many others, the lure of joining militant groups turning to crime or wandering aimlessly around the refugee camps is the grim reality that hangs over Syria's displaced youth.
Amid the ruin, however, remains a resilience; a resilience that is reflected in words of a poem well-known to all the children of Beity:
"Oh country," read Ruba. "Let us share the weight so I don't cry for my displacement.
"I do not cry for the state I am in. I cry for you."
For Syria's child victims of the war, the destruction has caused immeasurable pain, but that can't be the end of the story.
These are children who can rebuild and repair, if only they are given the chance to do so.
Some names have been changed to protect the identity of the children.