With every new experience (whether that’s going to a new school, starting a new job, or meeting your roommate for the first time) comes some excitement, curiosity and a little bit of anxiety.
You have expectations, but try to keep them low so that you disappoint yourself.
You hope to like the new experience, but don’t know if you’re going to.
You know that it’s going to leave a mark on you, but don’t feel it right away.
This was me before starting Jusoor. A nervous, yet passionate young woman that had no idea what to expect, but knew that her new volunteering experience was going to make an impact on all the lives involved.
It has been exactly a month since my last day with Jusoor, and I am being completely honest when I say that not a day goes by where I don’t think about my kids. Mohamad, Dalya, Aisha, Nour, Halima, Ahmad, Ruba, Saddam, Abir, and everyone else that I had the pleasure of meeting and becoming friends with, I miss you. I miss you and your radiating energy and smiling faces.
I remember the first day so well. I had entered the classroom that I was going to be spending my next 3 weeks in with the kids. I saw all the artwork of Mr. Hani’s (the teacher I was teamed up with) former students’ that were hung up on the wall. I saw the brightly painted alphabet and numbers. I saw books and painting supplies. I saw a lot of beautiful things.
But what I really saw and felt was hope. I truly did.
As the days went by, I started to get to know the kids on a deeper level. I understand the importance of education, but what I find just as important is human connection. I had a drive to get to know them on a personal level.
Once they became comfortable with me, I asked them what makes them happy and sad. Why did I ask? Because they are humans with feelings, hopes, and dreams, and their voices deserve to be heard. Their artwork might be a way of them to express their feelings, but their voices can never put down on paper.
I learned about what they do when they go home after school. I learned their favorite animals, foods, and games. I learned what their favorite sports were. And if you’re curious, soccer (futbol) was the winner. I think I had Syria’s future national soccer team in my class.
I remember one day very specifically. We were working on a coloring exercise and the kids had finished before the bell rang for them to go home. So I took that free time as an opportunity to bond with them even more. I sat down in one of the empty desks and started telling them about my Mom, Dad, and brother. Not because I thought they’d be interested in my life, but because I knew that if I opened up about mine and they realized that I also had a family just like theirs, then they would start talking to me about theirs.
And that is exactly what happened. They were all so intrigued by the conversation because I wasn’t talking down to them as children or refugees. I was talking to them like I would talk to my co-volunteers, friends and family. And they all realized how similar we really were.
Human to human.
This connection, that we’re all just humans, is VERY important to realize and believe. Yes, it is true that I’m Lebanese, they’re Syrian, and you’re most likely American (or Lebanese) if you’re reading this. Categories are great for certain things, like sports or food, but when it comes to humans, we don’t need to use them to downgrade others.
I’m guilty because I used to call them refugees. But after meeting them, laughing with them and befriending them, I think we need to stop calling them refugees as if they’re less human than any of us are. That label doesn’t do them any good. They’re little boys and girls, they’re mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, siblings, educators, engineers, physicians, lawyers, just like you are.
Our goal as volunteers with Jusoor was to create a happy and safe environment for these beautiful kids. I watched them grow in their artistic abilities, in their manners by saying please and thank you, and in their love towards one another by giving some of their food or drink to a classmate who didn’t have any.
To my kids, you have taught me more than I could’ve taught you. You had a glowing smile on your face every day. You appreciated the paper and pencil I gave you when I told you to draw because we ran out of activities for the day. You burst into joy when I gave you a soccer ball or bowling pins to play with.
You came to school because you wanted to hang out with your friends, you wanted to learn, and you wanted to have fun. The fact that you all still have those desires even though your life is currently very hard, is a lesson for me and everyone else.
You’re not letting the worst circumstances stop you from living. You’re only 6, 7, 8 years old, and you are more resilient and driven than any adult I know. You don’t take no for an answer, you don’t let loss, trauma, and death take a hold of your entire life.
I can only try to understand the feeling of leaving your home, school, playground, and friends to move to a country so you can seek safety. You’re not living in the best environment right now, but you’re not letting that stop you from anything.
I wish everyone was able to see their smiles when I gave them a cup of water, their excitement when we took selfies with the Snapchat dog filter, and their love for their beloved Syria.
They’ve seen and felt the worse, but will never let you know that.
These little girls and boys are just as deserving of a happy, safe, and healthy life, like any other kid in this world is. Don’t look down on them because of what the media shows and don’t ignore their lives.
My heart is with you. You have all left a mark on my heart and I will never stop talking about you and what you deserve.
I used to call them Syrian refugees and now I call them my kiddos.