Why Syria matters to me
By Sara Green
Please follow me on a journey…
After a ten-year career as a professional dancer, I decided to make a change in my life and came up with an idea to create arts programs for children in refugee camps. The idea morphed into a mission and after a few years, into an international NGO, Art for Refugees in Transition, A.R.T.
My work with refugees has taken me to refugee camps in the jungles of Southeast Asia, to many of the displaced communities in Colombia, to the crowded streets of Cairo, Egypt, helping recently resettled African refugees and just this past summer to working with newly arrived Syrian refugees in Amman, Jordan.
Following harrowing escapes, leaving behind family members, communities and their homes these Syrian refugees are living in a holding pattern. They are now faced with rebuilding their lives and caring for their families, all while trying to maintain a sense of dignity.
It is this sense of dignity that I was struck by the most. These men, women and children were once middle class citizens, who owned houses, businesses, were educated professionals and lived peaceful and fulfilling lives. When I first met with the refugees, it was the first time these parents had all been together with the children, as a community, and were given the time, place and opportunity to talk about their experiences as refugees. They discussed their struggles of adapting to living in a foreign country, the obstacles they face as refugees in Jordan, how their children are handling the transition, the toll it is taking on their families and what they missed about their homeland. The children asked to talk about what they missed the most about Syria and one-by-one, they stood up in front of everyone and spoke. The stories brought out tears and emotions and a very palpable sense of relief to be able to express their concerns, in a safe and welcoming environment.
A young refugee boy spoke of what he remembered about living in Syria before he and his family were forced to leave. He smiled as he spoke with pride about the three-bedroom apartment he had lived in with his family, “it even had a living room and my uncles lived next door and my grandmother lived downstairs.”
My husband and two boys, Julian, age 15, and Dylan, 8, joined me on this trip to Jordan. With the on-going stories in the news, the boys are very aware of the effects of the war on refugee children. Here they interacted with those children first hand, talked to them and played with them. They broke the ice with a game of rock, paper, scissors. Then the similarities and commonalities became strikingly apparent to our boys. Before they were forced to flee, these refugees had lives like ours. They had nice homes – creature comforts, good schools and they even played the same games.
You ask why Syria matters to me, Syria matters to me because Syrians are just like us. They are men, women and children who deserve a life of peace. They have the right to raise their children in a safe environment, not having to worry when the next bomb might fall and destroy their lives, or when someone might knock on their door and take a family member away, never to be seen again. If we stay silent and do nothing to help in the face of atrocities, then can we claim that we are fulfilling our responsibilities as fellow human beings?
Sara Green is the Founder and Executive Director of Art for Refugees in Transition, A.R.T. She is based in New York. A.R.T.’s current program working with Syrian refugees in Amman, Jordan is in partnership with Bareeq Education and Development and Columbia University’s Global Center Amman.