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Side by Side Syria Update: "We need to give happiness"

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Over one million children have fled Syria as refugees – more than the total number of children in Catholic schools in England and Wales. CAFOD’s Catherine Cowley explains how our local Church partners in Turkey provide Syrian refugee children with places to play, relax and feel safe again.

“The war has stolen the smiles of children: their joy, their laughter, and their happiness,” explains Malek, a Syrian refugee himself, who volunteers with children who have also fled the conflict. “When someone is only surviving, without all those things they need to have a decent and good life, they die inside.”

Children who used to feel safe in their homes and schools have lost everything. Some have been injured, others have seen their parents killed or arrested. Most have heard planes circling, tanks rolling by, and machine guns going off.

I know from my work with young children that they cope with difficult situations differently from adults.

They rarely talk about the way they feel or tell stories like the ones I’ve heard from older refugees. They show their feelings through the way they act. Some are withdrawn and quiet, others are angry and aggressive.

Some draw pictures showing what is on their mind. Over the last year, I’ve been helping set up safe, supportive environments where children can express their feelings and start the long process of recovering a sense of normality.

Children bring hope

Ahmed, another volunteer, told me how over the last few months he has seen it’s possible to make children smile again. “It’s wonderful and fulfilling when we can do that for them,” he says. “We need to give these kids happiness. It’s the one thing we can do.”

Even if the war ended tomorrow, it would take years for communities in Syria to recover. But your generous donations are helping children to play, to be happy, and to find alternatives to violence – which gives refugees of all ages hope for the future.

“I believe children can do something for peace,” says Malek. “They now draw pictures of planes flying away from houses and not bombing them, and tanks turning away. They are starting, step by step, to love again.”