As part of AOAV’s examination of the reverberating impacts from the use of explosive weapons in Syria, AOAV interviewed Salim Abdul Ghani, director of the Rainbow Centre for Syrian refugees in Gaziantep, Turkey, in October 2018.
Can you tell me more about what happens at the Rainbow centre?
We are a centre that provides learning and an educational environment to children. We work with children who have problems accessing education and provide it to those who are disadvantaged. Some have difficulties learning Turkish, and others also have to work to help their family earn an income. Some of the children collect garbage or recycling, or work in restaurant kitchens. They may face difficulties accessing a formal education in Turkish schools, so we educate them here.
And, what does the education include?
The education includes personal health and hygiene as well as basic education. The children study in both Turkish and Arabic and we also get them involved in other activities like games, handicrafts, toys, and painting.
And how long do the children stay here for?
After about six months we speak with local schools and are able to register the students there. Then we have new children arrive so we can do the same to get them back into education too.
How does the centre operate?
We have been operating for about three and a half years, and every year we educate about 100 children. All the teachers are volunteers, and in total there are ten teachers that work here – with this we do our best. The teachers either used to be teachers in Syria or are students in university. The funding for the centre comes from friends.
What about the children; how have they been impacted by the conflict in Syria?
Some of the children saw the war in Syria and can remember, others were too small to remember. The children here are between six and ten, so there is a mix of experience among them.
Naturally, some have many problems. Almost all have three kinds of problems: bed-wetting, speech impairments, and fear. They have fear even of simple things – things they don’t need to fear. All those who have experienced Syria have these problems.
And have the children or their family been physically impacted by the weapons used in Syria?
Some of the children have lost their mother, others their father. I would estimate that about 10% are without a mother and 25% without a father. If it is their father it could be for more reasons; they could have been killed in Syria, or they could be in prison or in Europe.
Children who have been injured and have disabilities usually do not come here. There are other places they are more likely to go. Most of these children will be taken to Europe where they can get a better quality of care.
Of the children you teach, have they missed much of their education?
I would say most are missing between one to three years of education when they arrive. They are still quite young so many will have been just beginning their education. For us it is important to quickly get them into education and save them from the streets. Most of those we teach here are from poorer families, so it is important that they get an education. When they are on the streets they can develop severe learning problems and other problems.
Are there many Syrian children on the streets and working in Gaziantep?
Yes, many children are on the streets in Gaziantep. Amongst the Syrian refugees in Gaziantep, those on the streets are mostly from the north of Syria and from poor agricultural communities. They are not adapted to the rest of the world and only know rural life.
The main issue is that these children are poor and so are their families. Not all parents can be easily convinced to let their child be educated. However, here we can convince some that it is best, and as the education is only for four hours in the morning, their child can work in the afternoon.
Why is it seen as acceptable for the children to work?
Usually it is based on necessity. The families need the children to work as many of these families have lost the father. The children work making clothes or shoes – doing stitching or nailing. Others work collecting recycling in the street.
Salim is Palestinian but grew up in Syria. He left Aleppo for Turkey five years ago. He tells AOAV about his time in Syria.
In the place I lived, one side was Free Syrian Army and the other was regime forces. They were fighting over us and bombs were landing all over our streets. I experienced the war twice after I left Aleppo; I went to Raqqa for six months and Idlib for another eight months, but there was violence everywhere. In Idlib there were also no services, like water or electricity, so I decided to leave for Turkey.
I had been trying to wait patiently, hoping for it to end, but it just kept getting worse. In the end the violence became so heavy that my wife and children were very afraid, and that was when we left to seek safety in Turkey.
Do you think it is likely you will ever return to Syria?
I want peace and justice in Syria and for the Syrian people. If it is peaceful and safe I, like most Syrians I believe, will go back.
We would like the UN, Russia, US and others to take care of refugees and our problems because there is a lot of death and blood in Syria and for Syrians.
A teacher at the school tells AOAV:
I will not return to Syria if I still fear for my life. Thousands have died in the bombings so why would I go back to a situation if there is this risk – it is the reason we all left.
They have already taken so much from my family. An airstrike killed my 17-year-old nephew [she shows a picture of his lifeless body]. My brother was killed in another airstrike one month after. All my brother’s children ended up killed in airstrikes.
If Assad is there, there is no safety.
To read AOAV’s full report on the reverberating impacts from explosive violence in Syria, the key findings, the main sections, or related articles, further interviews and videos, please see here.
Did you find this story interesting? Please support AOAV's work and donate.