On one of her first visits to Jordan during the current refugee crisis, Carolyn Miles met a 15-year-old Syrian boy whose words still stick with her today.
Before his family fled Syria, he was in high school, and doing well there. He’d started studying for university exams, mapping out his future, he told Miles, president and CEO of children’s rights organization Save the Children.
“‘Well, what do you think about your future now?'” she asked him.
“And he said to me, ‘I really have no future now.’
“When a 15-year-old boy says that to you, it’s worrying on many levels,” Miles tells Mashable. “Not just for that child, but for the millions of other children like him — and for what they think their future will turn out to be.”
Since the refugee crisis began five years ago, more than 4.8 million Syrian refugees have been displaced around the world, not including the estimated 6.6 million internally displaced within the country. Half of these refugees are children. According to a new report from Save the Children, at least a quarter of a million children are “living under brutal siege” in areas of Syria.
Nearly 60 million people were forcibly displaced from their homes by the end of 2014 due to conflicts around the world, 19.5 million of whom were refugees. Half of those refugees were children, too.
Save the Children delivers emergency supplies and food within Syria, and implements various refugee aid programs throughout 18 countries.
But a key part of the work the organization does is setting up “child-friendly spaces” — programs that let kids play, learn and draw. It gives them a sense of normalcy, Miles says — a sense of, “OK, I have somewhere to go, somewhere safe to be.”
These spaces also try to help refugee children with trauma. Fleeing war, losing family members and seeing untold horrors along the way can all be extremely difficult experiences for anyone to cope with, let alone children.
At least one thing helps: art.
Refugee children can tell their own stories through a number of art initiatives, which organizations use to help the children manage difficult psychological transitions through the horrors they’ve seen.
“Drawing gives kids an opportunity to express themselves without having to talk about it,” Miles says.
One of these programs is HEART (Healing and Education Through the Arts), Save the Children’s arts-based approach to provide psychosocial support for children affected by serious or chronic stress. It encourages children to draw to help process and communicate the intense feelings related to their experiences, according to Sara Hommel, director of the HEART program.
“We find that many children are more willing to share their feelings through art, through a gentle process in which they feel in control,” Hommel tells Mashable. “The more they process and share, and the more this sharing is met with supportive caring response from adults and peers, the more the child feels safe and in control, more capable of coping with stress, and more likely to start to feel hopeful for a better future.”
“Although some of those drawings are really hard to look at, they show the two sides,” Miles adds. “They show heartache, and they show the hopeful side … And getting that out on paper really does help them.”
Save the Children shared with Mashable the pictures drawn by refugee children at the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, the Adolescent Corner at the Asylum Info Center in Belgrade, Serbia, and a child-friendly space in Lesbos, Greece.
Akram arrived in Lesbos, Greece, after his older sister decided to leave Syria when they lost contact with their parents. She paid smugglers to help them cross the Greek-Turkish borders.
In the child-friendly space, most of the children were drawing colorful houses, red hearts and peaceful scenery with bright colors.
But Akram’s drawing had only two dark colors — brown and green. He was drawing two military helicopters and two tanks, attacking each other.
He says this is what he remembers when he thinks about Syria.
Abdul has been in Jordan for three years after fleeing the war in Syria with his family. His dream is to become a football player with an international team.
Abdul, a fan of FC Barcelona, painted himself playing football with his friend.
Adar is a 13-year-old Kurdish girl from Iraq, traveling in a big group of 30 people, 14 of whom are children. They all came to Serbia through Bulgaria with smugglers.
Most of the group had severe allergies because they were sleeping outside in the woods during their journey through Bulgaria, so they needed medical attention. The family was separated into different asylum centers.
Adar says her drawing shows a group of sad people leaving their home. One of the people in the drawing is holding a family member’s severed head.
Ahmed is a 16-year-old boy from Afghanistan. He’s traveling alone. Armed groups killed his brother in front of him and his family, so he ran away and started the journey to Europe by himself in order to get to his other brother in Germany.
Early on his journey, a group of smugglers took all his money and belongings, forcing him to walk most of his way through Bulgaria. There, he was attacked many times by police dogs. Then he met another group of smugglers who helped him into Serbia.
His drawing shows a school where children are hiding inside, peeking out the window, while tanks and militias are fighting outside. One person is dead.
While Ahmed was drawing, he showed with his hands how bombs fell all around. He was shaking as he described them.
Ayat is a 12-year-old Syrian refugee who has been in Jordan for three years. Her favorite things to do are play with her friends and paint. She also loves studying, and teaching other children how to read and write.
This painting shows the mosque next to where she lives in Russayfa, Amman.
Dorri is from Iran, traveling with her mother, father and grandmother. They arrived in Belgrade over a month ago, after trying unsuccessfully to cross Croatia and Hungary with smugglers to get to Germany. Dorri drew several pictures, including a boat filled with people with sad faces, and she drew herself with a sad and sick face, showing how bad she felt during her journey.
When the child-friendly space staff asked her what she would like to be when she grows up, she drew a fairy.
“Fairies fly wherever they want,” she said, “and I would like to be able to fly somewhere where it’s nice and safe.”