HARRAN, Turkey, April 2015 –UNICEF’s Child Friendly Spaces project is funded by the European Union and implemented in partnership with AFAD and in cooperation with the Turkish Red Crescent Society in all camps in Turkey to ensure that vulnerable Syrian children and youth have access to safe, participatory and inclusive education spaces and recreation activities.
The Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) have a total of 861 volunteer Syrian youth workers to support the children and have a gender split of 57% boys and 43% girls. One of volunteers is Mohammed. He is a youth volunteer in Harran Camp, in Sanliurfa province southeast Turkey. Both his home and school were destroyed.
“When I went to school I saw it had been bombed. The school sign was just lying on the ground. I had dreamed of becoming a teacher.” he says. “Now I want to become a journalist.”
He only heard about how his home was destroyed only after he fled to Turkey from Aleppo two years ago,. Mohammed started a new life in Harran Camp and has worked as a youth volunteer in its Child Friendly Space since he was 16.
“I have learned a lot in UNICEF’s Child Friendly Space. When I first arrived, I was more like a small child. Now I have think like an adult who has more responsibilities,” says Mohammed. The teenager made the transition to youth volunteer after he had participated in the activities organized inside the CFS and trained to help and support the younger children.
He says the children tend to be anxious and timid at first, but they manage to overcome these feelings after a while. Mohammed has been taking special care of a small child named Ahmed who has some bad memories from Syria and although the boy was very reluctant to take part in the games at first, he later started to play with his friend after receiving some special attention.
“Now I feel I’m free”
Emel from Deir-ez Zor, lives in Harran camp with her mother, father, six sisters and three brothers. She has been taking part in the activities carried out in UNICEF’s Child Friendly Space as a youth volunteer for the past two years.
She says they had a simple, but happy life back in their village. “Everyone knew each other back there. We had a small house with three rooms and a kitchen. Despite the confined space, we were happy. We used to grow our own fruit and vegetables.”
Emel used to take the bus to school was at a distance from the village. “We would joke around on the bus along the way. We got along well with our fiends for the most part. When we had small disagreements, we would settle them within the group,” her eyes twinkling at the memories.
“My greatest hobby is to paint,” Emel confides, but her second greatest hobby in the camp is to visit UNICEF’s Child Friendly Space.
“At first, I was somehow scared to be in the camp; then that feeling passed. I used to feel more liberated back in Syria,” she says. “Now, here in the Child Friendly Space, I feel free and safe again.”
The unforgettable first day
“I was only 16 when I came here. On my first day here, the crayons had just arrived, but we did not have enough paper to colour, so we painted our teacher’s face. We all had so much fun. I’ll always cherish that memory” says Emel.
A lot has changed since then. As a youth volunteer, Emel manages the activities for younger children herself, thanks to the leadership, communication and team work trainings offered by UNICEF and Turkish Red Crescent staff. After she completes the Turkish language course, Emel wants to get a degree in journalism from a Turkish university.
Turkish Red Crescent Youth Worker Ömer Direk says Emel and Muhammed are the most active youth volunteers in the camp. With a degree in sociology, Ömer has observed that it takes a long while before the children and youth in the camp can overcome the trauma inflicted by the war. His face lights up as he tells us how all youth volunteers have decided to become journalists after they published a placard newspaper as part of the journalism activity in the child friendly space.
Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) have been established in 22 camps in 10 cities. In all of these spaces, two youth workers permanently conduct activities for and with teenagers and children. The number of the children and adolescents with access to psychosocial support services through Child Friendly Spaces reached more than 70.000 as of March 2015.
Story and photos by: Ayberk Yurtsever