The winter of 2018 marked four years since I had lived in my home country, Lebanon. I felt alienated from the politics and the dialogue back home, considering I was in a small town in Vermont. I was acutely aware of the fact that some of my siblings were involved in the Syrian conflict and I felt a strong urge to pursue opportunities that would allow me to work in my field, develop my educational pedagogy, but also serve the cause. I wanted to make an impact and address the injustice that Syrian refugees were facing, all of which led me to the Syrian Smile Makers. I immediately connected to their mission and program, which gives teaching and volunteer opportunities to college students that were displaced and cannot continue their education as a result of the conflict.
The Syrian Smile Makers Team is based in Syria but currently functioning in Turkey. Their aim is to bring smiles back to Syrian refugees in the community through rehabilitation and providing humanitarian assistance to war victims. They are also specialized in education for Syrian children refugees that helps integrate them into the Turkish schoolish system.
I was living in Gaziantep in Southern Turkey, an industrial town about an hour away from the Syrian border. Gaziantep became a hub for a big number of Syrian refugees, which affected the population and the culture significantly, most notably in the food-service industry. Most of the people that I met experienced hardships during their journey to Turkey and lived in uncertainty under the executive orders of the Turkish government. My status as a Lebanese citizen in Turkey during the conflict was controversial, particularly in the south. I didn’t require a visa to enter Turkey, under the impression that I was there for tourism, but because I look Arab the militants would ask me for traveling and working papers, a Turkish mandate for refugees. In order to avoid checkpoints, I traveled daily through rideshare facilitated on WhatsApp by a group of drivers.
For the first month I was attending their supplement education course, to acquaint myself with their classroom environment and dynamics between the students and their teachers. I became familiar with their schooling structure and got to know some of the students that I would be teaching. I came to know the building and the spaces that I could use, in addition to meeting with their current teacher, logistics and media volunteers.
I took their theatre room since it had the biggest space that could accommodate the activities of the course and I was supplied with a projector, speakers, 6 tables, 30 chairs, and 2 boards. The remaining supplies such as drawing books, coloring pencils, flip chart sheets, pencils, erasers, sharpeners, glue, and other assisting material were provided by the teacher.
Briefly, this course was designed to motivate students and make them more aware of their education. I found that working with Syrian refugees would be a great learning experience for me, in addition to being able to contribute by bringing positive change to a group of children that are suffering from armed conflict, displacement, and disorientation.