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In January and February the weather was cold and the children of the camp were all barefoot and had no jackets. Only me (Arianna) and Luca made it to the camp this time, but we managed to buy and distribute 2 tracks full of boots and jackets to more than 1000 children. The organisation of the distribution is never easy, but this time we have been able to hand out boots and clothes of the right size to every child, thanks to the support of many people in the camp.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford distributing food packs to the 800 families of the camp: money is never enough and we can only rely on the spontaneous contributions from the donors. Still we were able to give milk to malnourished children and vouchers to the orphans. These young children live in very harsh conditions, they are alone in the camp and the older ones already work in the fields nearby for a few euros per day.

The contributions from the generous donors help children to cover their basic needs, but we strongly believe in the importance of education as the most important instrument we can offer them to change their life. SSCH relies on the school tent (Rainbow Tent) since it is the only place where children can spend a few peaceful hours, learning how to write, read and count. The management of the tent activities is not easy because the kids don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to games and instruction, even though this should be their everyday life. Still they are really willing to learn and play and have a break from a life made of hard work and sacrifice. Life has deprived them of their childhood, but in the tent they can live a moment of peace and light, and we are very proud of that.

Just a few drops in an ocean of grief and indifference.

 

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I write about this mission only three months after. I don’t know if this is good or not.

Emotions settle down and change, but never leave you.

It’s six years now that I (Arianna) go back and forth to the camps and sometimes I don’t know which direction to take in my life. Still I keep on going there. If I can change the destiny of just one of the children I meet, then it’s worth it. My dream is to give hope to these kids whose future have been taken away.

 

This is a very busy mission. We distribute food packs and visit malnourished children. Lorenzo, the doctor, spends the entire day visiting, checking the progresses of the malnourished kids and distributing milk and medicines to those in need. Pietro is also with us at the camp. He is a volunteer who launched a fundraising for us and then decided to come and help. Together with the doctor, they start creating a database of medical records that will be very helpful in the future missions. Thanks to this archive it will be a lot easier, for the three alternating doctors, to follow each patient. It’s an immense job, given the extreme working conditions of the camp.

In the meanwhile, Luca and Andrea build the school tent and the teacher (the interpreter who always supports us) starts counting the future scholars.

It’s going to be a small and modest school: there are many children and they have different ages and characteristics, but basically we’ll try to teach them how to read, write and count. Most of all, we want to create a peaceful and colorful oasis for children who have seen nothing but hard work in the fields.

The school opening is one of the best moments I have ever lived: pure joy and euphoria, but also order and self-control.  I hope we will always have the resources to keep this school running.

While some children have their first informal lesson, we pass on to distribute the checks to the orphans. Andrea takes pictures of each child or group and we’ll send them to the Italian donors. Sharing the children’s stories with the people supporting from Italy is very touching.

We finish our work late in the evening when it’s already dark. Some of the children are already asleep, others are still awake because they are happy to stay with us.

We identify a small shop where we make a deal: we give them money for each Voucher and children can go there and buy what they need. It works, but it’s an agreement based on trust.

Staying in the camp is both fulfilling and emptying. At the end of the day you are tired but you still don’t want to leave.

The next day we are back in the car directed to Kilis, where we stay as usual at Majad (The Sons of War). When we give the checks to the refugee families, the atmosphere is full of love and sorrow for the destiny of those people, especially children.  We would like to do a lot more, but at least we give them money to eat, so children are not forced to work and can go back to school.

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LIFE AT THE CAMP

Yet another departure for another mission! I don’t number them any longer, but I don’t blur any of them and I don’t forget any emotion they aroused .
We left at dead of night to stay longer in the camp, already tired and worried, as usual. When you leave you bring some burden with you, the burden of what you leave and what you already know you will meet. You know that you have to work very fast, your activities will be frantic and exhausting. The unforeseen always occurs.

We are only three this time, no doctor neither the photo reporter. Ok. That is. From Italy we asked the people there to get the food baskets ready. The families are 400 and the orphans are 40. We had launched a fundraising that unfortunately did not cover the cost of the food supplies. I feel discouraged and worried . Even the thought that in a while I ‘ll meet again the children and people who have been waiting for us for years is able to make me feel better.

When we get to the camp, after overcoming some difficulties, obstacles and so on, we find ourselves facing a surreal atmosphere.
The camp seems to be empty. No children run to meet us, no mothers or weary women, no men to welcome us.
All of them are tired, they have no hope and they are getting used to the idea that they will be left with no coumtry and with no rights there, in those camps for many years to come.
For the first time I have no words.

But then they appear. Slowly, very slowly …. and they are a lot, a crowd. The children look for attention, they take by your hand and try to communicate with hugs and signs, as they usually do.

We give out the food baskets. It takes 3 hours to meet the three camps. Some of the people will need medical treatment but the doctor is not here ; they were used to come together into a tent and line up to be seen by a doctor and receive medecins , but not this time! They are disillusioned, I am saddened. I feel guilty.

The children want to play, but there is not enough time. We carry on saying “baed” that means “dopo”. They
take you by the hand, they just want you to look at them, to spend a little bit of your time with them.
Women at the beginning stay aside, then they come near me and ask me how I feel, how are my children.
Men show through their lifeless eyes how much they appreciate what we are doing for them.We hand out the baskets and feel like to distribute, together with food, kindness and love that worm their heart. We smile at them, nearly joke. We brought some milk and candies, but it is getting dark, they will be shared tomorrow.

We have some tea sitting on the ground and our mind already is planning on what we will be doing during our next mission: either to give support to a school or to build a football pitch. Yes, we brought some footballs and we saw pure joy in the children’ s eyes! We think that a part from the body, also the soul should be cared if you want to have better citizens.

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BEYOND THE BORDER  –   Travel diary – by Lidia Boncoraglio

MARCH 2018

The departure is always a moment full of emotions. The division of weight seems to be like an easy thing but   it consists of 120 kilos of food, clothing and games.

Then we must try to plan everything though we are aware that unexpected events are very frequent.

 

The situation changes quickly   often from day to day and therefore our memories are no longer current.

The question of memories is delicate for us. We leave them a sign and they leave us an unforgettable sign. We find this sign in our eyes!

For example we can see the sign in Luigi’s eyes while showing the dress bought for Samia, five years old.

We can see the sign in Arianna’s eyes when asking me: do you remember Fiore? and other children met during these five years. Andrea does not say a word but his photos describe his emotions.

Finally landed in Adana! In total we are 6: Arianna, Marino, Andrea, Matteo, Luigi and me Lidia.

A LIFE BASED ON UNEXPECTED EVENTS

Once outside the Airport we found out that,   instead of  two booked vans, was actually only one van. We then applied for another van.

After many laps we finally arrived at the shop where our interpreter was waiting for us. He is a very

generous man and never takes money from us because he says   ”you come from Italy to help my people and I cannot accept money from you”.

The dealers start to load the vans and Haj Ali car. He and his son Hussein live in the camp and they are now great friends of Arianna.

Andrea is helping to load packages and I noticed a boy sitting on a wooden bench. He is alone, dirty and he is   looking at us with an extreme sadness.

I approached him slowly because I did not want to frighten him.

Immediately he pulls out of his pocket a box cutter. I offered him two chocolate bars, sweets and games.

THESE CAMPS CALLED HOME

Just left, direction Karatas. Arianna and Luigi are commenting about the change of the landscape. Very well kept farm fields and perfect infrastructures. When labor is free, it is easy to get good results.

From the car we can see some of these slaves. Many are women but also children.

Arrived at the camp, everyone ran to us. They recognized us. I know because a group of girls around me began to count in English.

Arianna was practically assaulted, Luigi with a child in his arms, Andrea walking hand in hand with a blond child.

In this group   there is a young girl I met last year. She is no longer the little Turkish girl but she is almost taller than me.

The ground is always sandy and even muddy. The number of plastic curtains has increased from 174 in 2015 to 283 according to the number of families. There is not enough living space and the bathrooms are always holes in the ground surrounded by plastic curtains.

So we started distributing food baskets following a list. This is the most difficult moment because families suffer lack of food. Something went wrong because some families were not on the list.

I love being in the camp. Although hunger, thirst and lack of hygiene make it “the middle of nowhere”.

They have lost everything but nonetheless they struggle and resist.

The distribution is over, now is time for Marino ( pediatrician) to visit his young patients. He worked in Iraq in these months to save children, too.

Meanwhile we went around the large camp looking   for lonely children and people with medical needs.

REHYANLI

Rehyanli is a border town  surrounded by a wall. It strikes to see the great concrete snake that spilts  the hill: from one side  us, and on the other side the hell. It’s a small town, of run-down  houses,  some even seem to have been hit by explosions. The inhabitants are more Syrians than Turks, many of them beggars in the street.

Some of them  have been living here for years, since the war began, so they put on their activities: small restaurants, small shops,  tiny petrol stations , and some well-stocked shops. The sun hits and it is hot. We are terribly thirsty!  We have got some bottles of water but we would like to keep them for the kids we are going to meet, mainly for Sanaa, Ali’s wife who lives here with her 5 children.

Our daily programme is very busy. We will be meeting Sanaa, a menber of an association of  French doctors, and at last a child who suffers from a serious pathology at limph nodes.

A BROKEN FAMILY

Here the problems start. We had saved on the phone Sanaa’s house  position but we find ourselves  in front of a cemetery. Some children are playing among old graves, and that makes me  shiver without any apparent reason. We  call Alì in Italy to ask him  where exactly his wife  lives.  Then start going round Rehyanli far and wide for almost an hour, with no result. We call him back and he sends us a different position, which turns out to be wrong as well.
Ali tells us that one of his children would come to fetch us but there are two cemeteries. Andrea, Matteo, Marino and myself stay here, while Arianna and Luigi move to the other one.
The children start to look at us with  curiosity and get closer but when we try to talk with them they run away. We open the car, take  some almond bars for us, and offer some to the children. They approach, take them and go back to play, waving their hands.

I start eating my bar and I find it too sweet and disgusting. Soon I feel ashamed as I know that in a few days I will eat properly , while the people here have quite often nothing to eat.
Arianna and Luigi come back with a Syrian interpreter who is  a member of an association based in Istanbul. He tells us he is happy to help, and will act  as  interpreter if we need it. We are immensely grateful.

We need to meet Sanaa to talk to her about the situation caused by her husband . We know that  she and her children will never be able to come to Italy to rejoin the family due to her husband behaviour when in Italy .

The story in short is this: when ALi arrived in Italy to have his son Mohammed  treated in hospital, the plan was that they would be reunited with the family within two months. But Ali started to behave badly, violently, to drink, to threaten the nurses and anyone he met,  nearly reaching the point to lose the custody of Mohammed. He even asked for a prostitute.
I, personally, living in the same city, suffered a lot  because of  his behavior . We told him that if he hadn’t change attitude, we would have never let his wife and children  come to Italy, and he answered he didn’t care!

My pain towards him turned into anger. As for me, but I know, it’s a shared thought, I’d like to kick him out! He claims that everything is due to him, and he does not want to go back to Turkey. He isn’t worried about his 13 year old daughter who is obliged to work , instead of going to school, to support the family. That’s why I hate him and quarrel any time I meet him.

It was difficult to find Sanaa’s home. After almost two hours of wandering around, we discovered that she lives in a village 20 minutes from Rehyanli and decided to meet her tomorrow.

The village is very small , extremely poor, worse than Rehyanli. To say, the roads are not asphalted, some houses do not have either windows, nor the floor. I wander it it is worse to live here or in a camp.
Sanaa, instead, has a beautiful home but empty of furniture. There is only the kitchen, with gas that does not work,  since she cannnot  afford to pay for it. There is  a small gas cylinder to be turned on just when in strict necessity. They just have what they carried away from the tent: three mattresses and some clothes. Nothing else. The children are skinny; Ali Hmoud, the 2-year-old little boy, Samia, the princess of 5, Youssef of 8, Husseina of 10 and Majada of 13. Majada,  is no longer the little girl we had met a year ago. She has now become a woman.
She comes next to me and I hug her; she’s the big one, the one who takes care of the family, who brings home bread, the one who hides  into her pocket the knife, as a weapon of defence, when she goes out to go to work.  Samia ,  approaches holding the dress and the doll, the presents  Luigi brought to her, while Youssef and Ali Hmoud are exchanging their gifts: a little red lorry and a puppet. Husseina shows her gifts to her little friend from the village, and I realize that the girl is a bit disappointed, so  I  take a little purse out of my bag and give it to her. Majada is wearing her  new bracelet , which matches with her veil and the little brooch that holds it firmly.
We must talk to Sanaa about her husband, about the fact that he has been  reported to the police and that this inevitably  has compromised everything . We don’t want the children to hear the bad news, so I take them out together with the men except the doctor and Luigi.
Majada, though, stays there, and from the way her mother clasps her hand I understand that it is her place. She is only 13 but she is mature for her age. I have noticed that she can write,  so I thought that , when tomorrow we will take all of them out for shopping, we will buy exercise books, pens and books.

While Arianna was talking to Sanaa , outside the house we were having fun, we played soccer, captive ball, together with other boys who had joined us.
Inside things are not going well.  Sanaa is desperate, but  I know she is a strong woman . What I don’t understand is that she goes on saying that  she does what her husband wants. They: Ali,  the interpreter, Sanaa an Arianna are talking through  a video call. Mohammed  is improving a lot and is now waiting for the transplant of kidney. We explained the troubles to Ali but he seemed unable to understand, he went on laughing and eating. We told them that the solutions were two:  either Ali will leave the child here and go back to Turkey (Mohammed cannot be  moved, but, rightly, he does not want to be left alone in Italy)  or he meets the requirements for the reunification. The last solution is definitely too optimistic due to the reality of the facts. What we certainly know is what will happen if he still gives signs of violence:  he will lose his parental authority. The first solution is sad but realistic,  but Ali insists in saying that he will never go back to Turkey. We also must consider that Mohammed neither can return  to Turkey, if he wants  to live, nor he  wants to stay alone in Italy.

Sanaa is desperate, and she bursts into tears. Her despair is so deep that she says that it would rather be better, for all of them, that Mohammed returns and dies.
To save one, means to sacrify 5. The children here are slowly dying. It’s true, apart from Majada, the others go to school but the level of poverty they are subjected to is such, that they are slowly  killed from inside

Majada left  the house and is back with some tea. I try to comfort her and together with Andrea, Luigi, Matteo and other children living nearby we go on playing

Arianna and Marino are still inside with Sanaa. When they come out they are destroyed. Sanaa is crying clasping her little child in her arms.

 

We go back into the house. Mohammed is on the phone with his mum, he has  just come back from school.
We promised Sanaa to come back tomorrow, so when we say goodbye we know it’s not a goodbye. Despite this she goes on crying in Arianna’s arms.

We were ready to leave when  a boy who had been playing with us came holding  three large freshly made Arab breads. We thanked and hugged hoping  to see him again tomorrow.

 

While driving back,  we discuss Mohammed ‘s situation . Everyone has different ideas, apart from the fact that in case he would be separeted from his family, nobody would object.

To relieve tension, Luigi suggests to take Sanaa and the children out for lunch, tomorrow and then to buy some food. All agree. We receive some donations , plus some money offered by Luigi and we decided that Sanaa will never remain without food.

Light hearted we reached the UOSSM headquarters located exactly in front of the wall.They have their own office on the border of Rehyanli. Outside the building there is  the flag of the European Union and that is impressive.  Is is a local association  of doctors who work in clinics and  make medical tests, but non inside the refugee camps. For our purpose they are of no help and we were rather disappointed.

We leave the spot and start looking for the house where the sick child lives.  We have got the position but also this time it turns out to be wrong and we find ourselves lost in Rehyanli.

A NEW DAY, THE LAST

Well, it was not my imagination; the sound was of shots and bombs, Andrea heard them too. Moreover, this morning, while we were going to meet another association of doctors, we saw some tanks on the road.

This time we were lucky, the meeting with this association of doctors went very well,  there are real possibilities to collaborate, mainly for Marino, but also for us. For example, giving medical assistance and psychological support to Sanaa, her family and her neighbours .

We’ll see each other again next time.

 

We went to  Sanaa’s home and  took her and the children down town and we really had a beautiful day.

Majada was at work, unfortunately, and could not come with us. I have never seen children so happy to enter a supermarket. It was the first time for them.

our way back we met a demonstration of “Grey Wolves” very well equipped and holding different national flags.
At home, Majada was waiting for us. She was crying as  she hadn’t been able to come with us.  Cried even more when I gave her the presents, because she was overcome by emotion.
We left and when inside the car we looked into each other’s eyes , neither smiling, nor crying, with no word but perfectly aware of the emotions that were crossing our hearts.

We’ve been back for days now. On my bedside table , I have the bandana I had tied around Piccolo Rambo’s face,  the one he had given me back after receiving some games and it reminds me of all the children we left there.

The first days are the most difficult, because here everything  seems  absurd and superficial. We talk about the refugee camps with the people we know but only a few understand us. I feel breathless when I think that  at night we keep warm, we eat  at least three times a day. We miss all of them, it’s painful to be obliged  to leave them there. But it is this sorrow , I think, that allows us to go on with this kind of double life.

Then we took them out for lunch in a sort of restaurant in Rehyanli. We ordered Syrian food but,  there, we  realized that  they don’t have our idea of meals, when they are hungry they eat a piece of bread and that’s all. They were very happy and mainly the children appreciated the food. Sanaa took some pictures as a souvenir of the day out.

On the way back, I found a stationery shop. I wanted to leave a nice gift to Majada, and bought her a beautiful diary,  notebooks and books. My dream is that one day she will go back to school.  I know that studying there is not the same as studying in a proper school, but it helps psychologically. I hope she will be able to follow her dream to became a teacher.

our way back we met a demonstration of “Grey Wolves” very well equipped and holding different national flags.
At home, Majada was waiting for us. She was crying as  she hadn’t been able to come with us.  Cried even more when I gave her the presents, because she was overcome by emotion.
We left and when inside the car we looked into each other’s eyes , neither smiling, nor crying, with no word but perfectly aware of the emotions that were crossing our hearts.

We’ve been back for days now. On my bedside table next to my bed, I have the bandana I had tied around Piccolo Rambo’s face,  the one he had given me back after receiving some games and it reminds me of all the children we left there.

The first days are the most difficult, because here everything  seems  absurd and superficial. We talk about the refugee camps with the people we know but only a few understand us. I feel breathless when I think that we sleep
thought that at night we keep warm, we eat  at least three times a day. We miss all of them, it’s painful to be obliged  to leave them there.But it is this sorrow , I think, that allows us to go on with this kind of double life.

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During the month of February 2016,  more than 400  food baskets  were handed out to the Syrian children and their families settled in the camps in Hureitan, in the province of Aleppo within the Syrian territory.
Neither bombs, nor fights and attacks were able to stop our friends and collaborators from helping the poor people. Unfortunately, due to safety reasons, they were obliged to make several deliveries on different days,  cramming the car and borrowing a van to be able to reach the many children and families . At last they could hand them out food.
We know it is just a little drop in the sea of their need, but for those who have nothing,  that small drop weighs more than lead
Thanks to the friends who go on supporting us , making donations, helping with organization, and distribution of food baskets and other materials , often  at their own risk. Thanks, because without them it wouldn’t be possible to help anybody.
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The beginning of each mission sees the pharmacy and the supermarket as the first stops. The employees and cashiers know who we are, they know why we are there and like every time, even this one, we came out with a huge amount of shopping that required 5 trolleys to be transported: 100 kg flour, 100 kg pulses, 50 kg sugar , 50 kg salt, 80 l of oil, 100 kg rice and then still many, many packs of sweets, lots of chocolate bars and, since you can not mess around with your teeth, even toothbrushes and toothpaste. The car, made available by the volunteer that helps us, was so full that we could not do anything except pile packets of pulses on the dashboard at the front!

To get to the camp we had to walk along a road in the middle of fields of vegetables and peppers. It would have been a pleasant pastoral vision had it not been for the bent backs of Syrian men, women and children, all intent on picking vegetables.

We arrive at the first part of the camp which has 120 tents, and it immediately becomes evident that they are not camping tents, but improvised solutions with plastic sheeting, wooden canes, twine and drapes.

We put all the food in the common tent, divided by type, and the person in charge of the camp together with his son take on the task of distributing it. Each family gets two packets of pulses, a packet of rice, a bottle of oil, a packet of salt or sugar.

The camp is located near a river, which means having a water source that can be easily accessed. Here the refugees fill tanks that once were used for detergents; the water, even if present is not clean, even the waste and rubbish end up there.

In the distance there is another camp: a camp of Syrians (130 tents) created on a rubbish tip of which the remains are still there. Some barefoot children play on the wet and filthy ground with plastic cups found there: they pick them up, put them in their mouths and this seems to be how they spend their time. In this part of the expanse there is only one source of water, a pipe that emerges from the ground and which in hiccups dispenses water for the 130 tents.

The hygienic conditions of the two settlements are disastrous. Hygiene in the fields does not exist: flies and insects everywhere, flies and even more insects, which crawl on your hands, on your face, which go into your mouth, flies and insects that in the end you don-t even feel anymore. The bathrooms are holes in the ground around which 4 branches of wood have been fixed and pieces of material have been hung. In the second camp, even water is a big problem: it is in a big bucket, filled with canisters, which must be enough for 4/5 families and whose content must be used to wash objects and for personal hygiene.

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The food, vegetables and Arabic bread,  is cooked thanks to improvised fires in large iron pots. I still smile at the thought of what the women were cooking when we arrived at the camp: fried aubergines and bread, the same dish that my Sicilian grandmother prepared for me on summer afternoons.

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In February some SSCH members have left Italy with 200 coats and 150 fleeces which have been divided in two two refugee camps. In addition they have brought 150 food packs in the camp n.1

Camp 1:

The first camp we targeted for the February mission is an official camp menaged by Syria. The refugees receive two meals every day but they are not sufficient for a suitable subsistence level. In this camp there is no solidairity neither reciprocal help between refugees.
Camp 2:
The second one is a spontaneous camp and for this reason there aren’t any assignments save our interventions in the months of November, December and February. On November we became aquainted with Mohammed’s situation, a children affected by what seemed not treated hepatitis. He was suffering because of liquids dumped in his abdomen; this was making him die slowly. For this reason in the months of November and December has took part in the mission a heart-surgeon woman who, in addition to take care and cure Mohammed, has attended all the children of the camp. As in February, also in December we have brought with us coats, fleeces and food. On February on our reporting it has been possible also an intervention by IOM which brought tents, blankets and boots for kids. In this camp there are either solidarity and mutual help.
Both of the camps are the portait of poverty. The ground is covered of mud, water and snow which make a dramatic situation as it is severely worse. We remind that the cold is one of the predominant cause of death.

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