The sound of the blast was very loud. It almost seemed like the missile fell in the room next door. While all the adults were still under shock, Ali, four, rushed to his younger sister Alissar and hugged her. Together, they moved towards the window and stared at the collapsing next-door building. “Don’t be scared, we will be fine fine,” Ali assured his two –year- old sister. Ali thought that as long as they are not injured like their neighbors, things will be okay. What Ali didn’t know was that the destruction scenes they saw as they fled their neighborhood in the city of Aleppo would haunt him for a while.
Photo Credit: Mark Karam - Communications Officer
From the beginning of the war in Syria, Ali’s father Issa refused to leave Aleppo and go anywhere else. Minutes after the incident, Sabah his wife, gave him an ultimatum. “I told him stay as long as you want. This missile hit our neighbors’ house and killed them, shall we wait for our turn?” recalled Sabah. She, then, packed few of her belongings as well as the children’s. Issa saw that his wife was right, so they locked their house for good and decided to head to another town in Syria.
“I cannot begin to describe what we saw while fleeing our house. People we spent a lifetime with were lying on the floor dead. My children were traumatized,” stated Sabah. Ali’s family arrived to another town which soon had its share of bombs and destruction. Issa and Sabah decided it was time to move to Lebanon.
“It took us time to cope. We never imagined we would be living in tents,” Sabah remembered her first days at the informal tented settlement (ITS). Ali stayed inside the tent most of the time. He refused to play with other children. “Ali became an introvert. The destruction and all these drastic changes reshaped his personality”, continued Sabah. Ali barely spoke a word or two during the day. He wasted time by gazing at the tent walls and doing nothing. Issa was assigned as the settlement “shawish” – he became the point person of the ITS when dealing with the Lebanese authorities and humanitarian agencies. He and his wife heard about the Early Childhood Education programme World Vision was implementing in Bekaa.With funds from PMU, ADH, Refugee Responder and World Vision offices, 1900 children, aged three to six, were reached with a programme focused on early education.
Ali and his sister Alissar were both enrolled in World Vision centers. At first, Ali refused to mingle with children other than his cousin Sabah. However, he was very interested in the class activities. “I was the first to grasp the names of the week days in English: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” he said with a big proud smile on his face. “My favorite activity was the one we did last week, we drew a fish and we decorated it.” Sabah believes that ever since her son went to the center, he started speaking about the future. “He wants to become an architect. He has plans for the future. It means my son gained back hope in his life again,” stated Sabah. Ali is very influenced by his father and grandfather who both work in construction. He listens to them speak about it, and he decided he wants to grow up and draw these buildings. Ali is very excited about finishing the ECE programme and being able to attend a public school. “I can’t wait to learn more and more,” he explained. Sabah believes that had Ali not participated in the ECE programme, he would have never been interested in the world of education. “This was the best opportunity for us as a family, ever since we became refugees”, Sabah interrupted.
Thanks to the happy songs and interesting lessons, the scenes of destruction were no longer haunting Ali. Many Syrian refugee children like him took their first steps towards healing from the brutality of the war only by being in a caring and colorful environment. With the proper continuous support, Ali and other children will one day have the chance to believe that they are fine.