That’s what my sister twelve year old sister, Hannah, said about her expectations for our family’s trip to SOS Children’s Villages in Syria. She couldn’t have been more wrong.
Our family visited the organization’s Damascus village on the last day of our stay in Syria. During our week there we had fallen in love with the country; everything from the historic sites, to the food, to the hospitality of the locals was perfect. However, one couldn’t help but notice that the country was certainly different than our native Canada. While we saw few “street children”, the amount of people our age or younger out selling their wares on the streets was truly staggering. One couldn’t help but wonder what opportunities these children had for the future and what their stories were. Of course, all of these questions and more were answered by the children and adults whom we met at SOS Children’s Village.
When we arrived at the village we were greeted by its head and by our translator and guide for the day. We were then taken outside to see the facilities firsthand. No term could describe these facilities better than the term that is already used: village. All of the houses are connected by paths, which also connect to the main office and a large playground. Each child is assigned to a house with several other children and a “mother” who lives with them full-time. This mother is given relief by an assortment of “aunts” who also help with raising the children. They attend a nearby school that is not affiliated with the village, in order to be better integrated into the community.
The children come from a variety of circumstances; some are orphans, others are abandoned. Their reaction to our visit was truly astounding. Many rushed to the door to great us, while others hung back and gave polite “hellos” later. The younger ones were eager to show us their shared bedrooms and toys, while the older ones smiled shyly from across the room. However, it was the little girl who sat unblinking on the sofa facing the door that caught my attention. Our translator explained the she had just arrived at the village a few days before and was terrified of strangers. In fact, a few days before she had hidden in the closet whenever someone knocked on the door because the sound reminded her of soldiers knocking. We were told that her staying in the room was a sign of tremendous improvement. What was truly astounding were the hugs and encouragement that her siblings gave her when we arrived, just like in a real family.
However, I think it was my father who best put into words what we saw: “Family is about belonging, commitment and stability. Children belong to each other and their mothers; mothers and aunts commit long hours to their children; and everyone is there for the long haul.”
Emma, Ottawa (age 15 years)