Reshma Khan, CARE Kenya
As the plane finally touches down, after looking out of the window and seeing the majestic desert and great hills rise in the distance, I feel a slight trepidation, wondering if what I have come here, to Jordan, all the way from Kenya, to accomplish, will really happen the way it should.
15th March 2014 marked three years since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, which has left 2.5million people stranded as refugees within the region, including in countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt. While support does continue in many instances, there is still so much lacking for the Syrian refugees. Having noted this, despite all the life-saving humanitarian assistance we provide, CARE Jordan?s team decided that it was time to make a little noise, to make the world know that Syria must not be forgotten. So earlier in the year, my German colleague currently posted to Amman, Johanna Mitscherlich, wrote to the CARE global communication folks, telling them that she and other staff in the country, along with some Syrian refugees, were planning to run a crazy marathon from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea in 24 hours ? that?s over 242km! For some reason, I was pulled to this idea. Having worked with the refugees in Dadaab, Kenya (also the world?s largest refugee camp) I asked if there was any potential of me supporting the cause in some way. Little did I know that I was setting myself up for one of my life?s biggest challenges! Let me make it very clear - I do not run, yet, having been signed up by Johanna to participate with the team, I had to start training from scratch!
We hoped this marathon would be a good fundraising effort, and we were not disappointed! To date, we have raised over USD15, 000 and counting, and we are hoping that the support will continue to pour in. The marathon was a great success ? despite our inhibitions, we made the run happen, and finished in 22 hours and 23 minutes with the international team of ten from Syria, Jordan, Portugal, Germany, Austria, and Kenya.
Apart from allowing me to participate in this epic yet grueling task, the possible visit to Jordan provided me with an opportunity to facilitate something that has never been done before ? to give hope to the Syrian refugees, especially the children, in a very different way, a link that has not been created before, surprisingly.
Being a refugee is hard enough ? having to leave your home, everything you know, your friends, your career, losing your loved ones ? a vicious cycle that once you are engulfed in, becomes hard to get out of. Now imagine what it must be like to be a child in this situation, an innocent little person who cannot understand why they are having to leave the country they have known all their lives, to leave behind the sense of normalcy that they crave, to leave their most prized possessions, and walk across the border to another country where nobody knows yo
ur name, where you probably will not get all the normal luxuries of life that you were used to.
As I thought about this, and felt sorry for the children of Syria, I remembered the children in Dadaab refugee camp
in Northern Kenya ? who know exactly what it is like to be that refugee, to be a stranger in a place you may have to call home for a long time to come. So I decided to see if we could link the Dadaab children to the Syrianchildren in some way. My colleague from Dadaab and I, Mary Muia, talked to the students about the crisis in Syria, and how it was affecting children their age in another part of the world. What we did not expect was how knowledgeable and compassionate the children of Dadaab would be ? they knew exactly what was going on in Syria, and wanted to help us give hope to children like themselves.
So we embarked on a letter-writing campaign, where 37 children from 2 schools would write a letter each to the children of Syria, and I would deliver these letters personally in the urban refugee settlements in Amman. Reading those letters of hope continues to be a very emotional experience; when you hear a child who has next to nothing as a refugee tell the other that they are praying for them to get peace, that they are brothers and sisters, and that they should know they are loved by children in other parts of the world, almost breaks a heart. Without us telling them to, the Dadaab children even managed to find images of the Syrian flag, and drew these on the letters as a show of solidarity. When I went to pick the letters in Dadaab, the children insisted that I must tell the Syrians that they are not alone, that Dadaab and the rest of the world is with them.
Fast-forward to my present moment ? I have just given out the 37 letters to Syrian children and volunteers, and have read the letters from Dadaab to the children individually. To see a face full of adoration, to see that the children feel all of a sudden that somebody else, not an adult, knows what it?s like to be them, and that it will be ok, makes the Syrian children smile. Even more special moments are created when the Syrian children find photos of their new pen pals in the envelopes! I also show a video of the Dadaab children speaking, sending messages of peace, albeit in their broken English, but speaking more humanity than many words could express!
I am told the Syrian children intend to write back, and that they are touched by this gesture from refugee children who have either fled Somalia or have been born as refugees.
As this happens, in Dadaab, the CARE staff and refugee volunteers hold a candle light vigil for Syria. If there is one thing I have learnt, it is that hope has no boundaries, no ethnic divisions, so language barriers.
Each of us is capable of giving someone that little spark, to let them know that they are not alone, that we are holding their hands. And thanks to Emirates, I was able to make this happen for the innocent children of Syria, to let them know that there are children in Dadaab praying for them, and wishing them a future of peace. #WithSyria
This very special letter exchange garnered the world's attention, and some of the biggest global media houses covered our story. For more details on the coverage, Click Here.
To see my video about the letters, Click Here.