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Words of thanks from a Syrian: Irish schoolchildren showed me kindness and hope

Alia Alsoud left Syria in 2011 at start of the civil war. She visited Ireland recently to meet children and teenagers concerned about the refugee crisis.

Alia Alsoud

WHEN I WAS a child in Syria, the elderly people in my family always said to the children that whatever falls from the sky, “thou shalt not curse it”.

Today, those same elders curse all things that falls. Because now, they are mainly missiles and barrel bombs, and they have been killing and injuring hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Syria for five years.

Up until very recently, I had imagined that explaining the cruelty of the outside world to children in other countries would be one of the most difficult tasks I could be asked to do, especially since I am running away from believing how cruel it is myself.

I remember how my dad protected me when I was small. We lived in Yemen during the 1994 Civil War and I still recall how he used to carry me on his shoulders, showing me “fireworks”. I later discovered that what I was seeing were actually anti-aircraft missiles.

I left Syria in 2011 at start of the war. I spent two years listening to the tragic news about the internal displacement of my people. I lost two cousins and an uncle in the violence, and had three of my aunts and uncles trapped in a city in the east that was under siege by the regime.

With all this on my mind, I worried that it would be too difficult to ever stand before children and talk about this tragic conflict in my country, Syria. I know now that I need not have been concerned.

During my recent visit to Ireland, I spoke to hundreds of Irish children and teenagers at primary and secondary schools all across the country, and it was an experience I will never forget.

I came to Ireland on the invitation of my employer, GOAL, which recently ran a development education project called Write the Future that invited students from all over the country to write to a person of their choice about the Syrian refugee crisis. More than 1,000 students penned letters to sports stars, musicians, politicians and other people of influence.

I was selected as one of the judges, and I was delighted to travel to Ireland from Turkey (where I live now) to meet with some of the boys and girls who participated in the campaign.

Questions

It wasn’t easy at the start. When I walked into each class, the kids looked at me like I was a hero returning from a battlefield. That made it even more difficult and I felt the burden.

How do I start? How do I explain? What if I lost myself while talking about all the violence and the killing? What if I planted images that I should not in their heads?

Then I remembered that these kids had already found ways to raise awareness and fundraise for the Syrian people.

They had already addressed their letters to people who they thought were important in their towns and country, describing as they did how awful the situation is in Syria, and why refugees had to leave their homes.

They wrote to singers, to rugby players, prime ministers, presidents and even to the European Parliament.

76c78854-fe1f-4d70-bec1-bfe2071bff9c Cathal Grogan, a fifth year student at Bush Post Primary School in Dundalk, receives an award from Alia and Louise Merrigan of GOAL.

In fact, they did so much research around the conflict in Syria that many of them were worried about how sad and hopeless I would be because I am living away from my country.

They were also very curious about my own situation and asked questions like “when did you leave?”, “how did it feel to leave home?” and “will you go back to Syria when the war is over?”

Humanity

There were some moments in particular that I will never forget.

The boys and girls in fifth and sixth class in Kiltartan National School in Gort, Co Galway really touched me when they prayed as one big group for my people.

They showed that they believe that humanity knows no religion or affiliation, and that no human being should suffer. And if they did, God would be by their side.

While explaining some of GOAL’s projects in Syria, I asked one of the classes if anyone knew what “WASH” stood for.

WASH is a well-known acronym in the aid sector and actually stands for water, sanitation and hygiene, but one of the boys answered confidently that it translated as “water always saves humanity”.

It was a moment of pure logic: here was a child automatically thinking about the relevance and critical importance of water to human beings.

It was also amazing to meet Ruben Grace, a pupil in St Conleth’s College in Ballsbridge, Dublin, who wrote a letter that included the lines: “The immigrants are not all violent extremists. Thousands are 11-years-old just like me who happen to pray to a different God.”

At St Patrick’s National School in Skerries in north County Dublin, the fourth class pupils welcomed our group with Irish flags, speeches from the students, and songs for peace and for children all around the world.

Before I began my visits, I thought I would be helping the children to learn about the conflict, and about my country. In fact, it was they who helped me. They taught me a lot about hope. Their smiles, their curiosity and their searching questions energised me, and they gave me the courage to speak.

Standing in front of them, I felt proud to be an aid worker, and proud that I am able to help my fellow Syrians.

Alia Alsoud is a Syrian aid worker with GOAL in Turkey.

The aid agency conceived Write the Future to help students learn about important humanitarian crises, and show them that their voice can inspire change in the local and global community. Visit www.goalglobal.org for more information.

Read: Ireland is nowhere near close to settling its share of Syrian refugees

Read: Refugee Olympic athletes: ‘Sometimes we couldn’t train because of the war’

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Alia Alsoud

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