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Of Hardship and Hope – Finding Sanctuary in Art

"It used to be very grey, but now I can see life in colors and I feel safe," (Photo: Malteser International).

A black heart, a red heart.

When 10-year-old Shahed paints an image, it seems trivial at first glance but a closer look reveals a real life story of hardship and hope.

Shahed is the youngest of four children born to a Syrian refugee family. Before her family fled the war in Syria, Shahed and her siblings lived in constant fear. “We moved houses a lot because of the war, but it never felt safe anywhere,” she recalls. Wars and conflict can affect a child’s feeling of security and hope, displacement can also turn a child’s life upside down. Shahed feared that she would be able to find any friends. One year ago, her family found refuge in Reyhanli, a small Turkish town on the border with Syria.

“It used to be very grey, but now I can see life in colors and I feel safe,” Shahed says, explaining how she feels about her new home. She now uses her art to tell her story.

Shahed’s daily routine in Reyhanli has changed a lot since she arrived. She goes to school in the morning and spends her afternoons in the children's care centre run by Maram Foundation, supported by Malteser International. This is where she can play with the other children, paint, and take English and Mathematics classes.

Safe spaces for Syrian refugee children in Reyhanli

Art can help children process their experiences of conflict and express their hopes and desires. (Photo: Malteser International)

Children who have suffered trauma as a result of war receive psychosocial care in the after-school care center. Art also plays a central role here. Through painting and sketching, these children can process what they have experienced and express their wishes or hopes.

Shahed's eyecatching and vivid drawings adorn the walls of the facility. In one of her drawings, a little girl stands at the foot of a mountain in a landscape covered with lots of lush greenery. Shahed loves drawings that reveal nature. “These landscapes calm me down and make me happy,” she says. With her art she has made it her task to translate her feelings into colorful pictures, telling the story of her life's journey - from fear in Syria to peace and hope in Turkey.

The war in Syria has been raging for the past eight years. What began as peaceful protests in 2011 escalated to a full-scale civil war. Since then, millions of people have been displaced. In Turkey, Malteser International provides support to Syrian refugees and helps them integrate into Turkish society. Thanks to the after-school children center in Reyhanli, Syrian refugee children can enjoy a stable, caring environment.

For a child of 10, Shahed is wise beyond her years. When asked what she would like to be in future, she answers: “I want to become a teacher. I want to give children who, like me, have been robbed of their carefree childhood an education that gives them hope for their future.”

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