When things turn ugly it is usually the role of parents to comfort their children. But when fleeing war, even young children can be mature enough to reverse the situation and help their parents. Tarek* is one of these children. I met him and his family in one of the camps in northern Greece, where Save the Children operates.
You can ask Tarek basic questions in English and he knows how to answer them perfectly. He proudly shows you what he learned in the English lessons offered by Save the Children in the camp where he lives.
He is happy to talk and he smiles all the time, except when you ask him about his memories from Syria. “I remember going with my grandpa to the field to pick up olives. Once, I picked some olives and exchanged them in the market for biscuits… I remember the bombing before we left.” Tarek doesn’t start crying, he just stops talking.
"I remember going with my grandpa to the field to pick up olives. Once, I picked some olives and exchanged them in the market for biscuits… I remember the bombing before we left."
As Tarek says these words, his father, Basil*, bursts into tears. My heart breaks, when I see a father, who just wants the best for his child, crying. I understand that he feels guilty and responsible for what Tarek witnessed. He is stranded in a refugee camp and there is nothing he can do to help his son forget.
Tarek, however, stands up, walks to a nearby table, picks up a tissue and offers it to his father. He places his small hand on his father’s shoulder and then leaves the tent.
Bombings and bodies
His father tells us about the atrocities that his boy witnessed: bombings and bodies lying around on the streets of their hometown. What he saw in Syria haunts his sleep. Every time there’s a fight in the camp he gets scared, so he is meeting with a psychologist to help him get through this.
Tarek’s family left Syria in 2013 so their three children could be safe and have a future. They spent two years in Turkey, hoping that the war would end and they could go back. But the war dragged on longer than they anticipated. After a treacherous journey by sea, they are now stuck in a camp in northern Greece waiting for their asylum application to move forward.
“I see that my child has potential and talent, but we are stuck here and there is nothing we can do about it. I want to get away from this situation. I don’t want anything for myself. I just want a future for my children,” Basil says.
His boys really enjoy waking up and going to the English classes in the camp. Tarek loves to learn and he is eager to study subjects that are even more difficult than basic English.
“When I grow up I want to be a lawyer,” Tarek says proudly. “To help people. Poor people who have nothing. Not only Syrians, everyone. Because I love this. When I become a lawyer I will learn everything.”
A sense of normality
With the slow asylum application process keeping children “imprisoned” in the abysmal living conditions in the camps, they lack the chance to live the normal life that every single child deserves. Children fleeing war have experienced the most unspeakable atrocities. Even though they sometimes smile and laugh, the trauma of what they have seen follows them constantly. By offering those children the possibility to play again as children and to go to school as every child should, Save the Children are offering them a chance to a normal life. That is something they need, in order to have a chance to overcome their trauma.
Save the Children’s non-formal education programmes in northern Greece are funded by the EU Humanitarian Aid, and give child refugees stranded in Greece’s camps the chance to continue to learn and fulfill their potential.
*Names changed to protect idenities.