5 years old on the the 5th anniversary of the Syrian conflict
5 year old Shahd* and her sister Marah*, 13, came to Egypt from Syria with their family nearly three years ago. Although 21 members of their family were killed during the war in Syria and the family had to take shelter in the basement during airstrikes they were still intending to stay, hoping that the war would soon end. It was only when a cousin of the girls was killed by a sniper in front of the family home during an airstrike that they decided to leave. While in Syria and during the journey to Egypt their mother says the sisters didn’t like to speak to anyone, not even her. However, since they started attending Save the Children’s child friendly space they have become talkative again and are always excited to visit the Center and play with their friends.
Shahd’s story in her own words:
I live with my mum, my dad and my sisters and brothers - Shahd, Omar, Majd and Gehad. At home I play with Marah. [If we were at home now] we’d be getting papers, colouring them, cutting them into shapes and playing games. I love playing with paper. Blue is my favorite colour. I love colouring. I know how to make a plane from paper.
Before we lived in Syria. I remember some things but I have also forgotten some things. I miss my home. I miss everything. I used to share my bedroom with sister. I remember that the walls were all white and the ceiling was pink. The apartment was on a ground floor. The balcony was small. I used to see the garden in front of the street. I remember I was in nursery. I remember my teacher. Her name was Sara. She was nice.
When my sister Marah told me we were travelling to Egypt I was happy, but then when I found out we might not come back to Syria I was sad. I was sad because it was very painful knowing I wouldn’t come back to my country. I brought my teddy bear and my bag. I put my teddy bear inside my bag.
[In Egypt] we rode a boat in the Nile. It was very surprising to find people holding their dishes and washing them in the river. Once while riding the boat I put my fishing stick in the river. I felt something tugging on it, so I pulled it out. I wished it was a big fish but it was very small. Fishing is not that hard, it just needs patience. I saw on TV how people fished and I learned from that.
Marah’s story in her own words:
Before coming to Egypt I used to live in Damascus, Syria. We used to play with our neighbours. Between the buildings there was a garden and we used to play in the garden because our mum told us not to go outside. We used to go to school. I liked school a lot. The thing I loved most was my school, my friends and my classroom.
Actually my father wasn’t planning for us to come to Egypt but there was a situation that made him really eager for us to leave. When I found out we had to leave Syria I was sad and afraid. My parents told me that we were leaving Syrian and going to Egypt. When I knew we were going to Egypt I didn’t tell my sisters and brothers. I told them the next day, when we were travelling. When I first told them they thought we would come back, so they were happy but when I told them we were not going to come back they were sad.
We left home at six in the morning. I brought with me my teddy bear, some of my copy books and my favourite pencils and pens. My teddy bear wasn’t a boy, it was a girl, and I named her Lulu. I have her now. We went by car to Lebanon because there was no airport. [In Lebanon] we stayed in the airport for two days. Then my father told us that we would leave and the plane was there so we got ready and took a plane to Egypt.
I had three feelings. The first was that I was afraid I might not come back to my country again. I was happy because I would know new people from a different culture. I had feelings that I would miss my friends, family and my country. When I asked my father if we would be coming back to Syria again he told me ‘yes, God willing’. I was felt safe and secure that I my parents and siblings with me, but on the other hand I was afraid because my aunts and uncles were still in Syria. They are still in Syria.
In Egypt we have moved house three times. My father asked a friend of his who lived in Egypt to rent a house for us. The house we rented was very dusty and empty. It had nothing. I put my sisters and brothers to bed then helped my mum clean the house. For example, my mum would clean the doors and I would clean the windows. My siblings gave us a hard time because they wanted to go out. My father put them on the balcony so they could see out. In front of the building there was sand but you couldn’t see the street from the balcony.
We don’t have any relatives or friends coming from Syria. My father’s friend used to live with us [in our first house in Egypt] but I don’t know where he is now.
When I first arrived in Egypt I wanted to discover a Pharaoh’s temple. There are a lot of differences between living here and in Syria. Here the education is totally different. Here in Egypt the teachers can give us lots of lessons, one after another. In Syria school is more difficult. [In Egypt] I went to an Azhari school [the general term for a private Islamic school], then I went to a public school. Most people told me that the Azhari school is very hard, but I didn’t find it hard. I came first in my class. My father wanted to enroll my younger sister Shahd in the Azhari school but he couldn’t because she was too young. They didn’t accept her. She is now behind by one year - she is now in primary 2 - because she repeated kindergarten.
The food is different. It’s a very small difference, but still, it’s a difference. You always return to the food you first ate when you are growing up - mum’s food is always the best food. The strangest thing for me here in Egypt is that people ride buffalos and donkeys. We have that in Syria, but not in the city. We used to live in the city and you wouldn’t find donkeys or buffalos - you find it more in farm areas or in the countryside. So it was very surprising to see people riding donkeys and buffalos here.
[At home] I help my mum with the housework. We watch television and I play with my sisters. We cut paper, colour it with pens and make chains out of papers. We play hide and seek with each other. My favourite thing to do at home is to see a drawing in a book and copy it. I like playing games on the phone. We don’t really play with our brothers, but sometimes I take the phone from my oldest brother and play with the games on it.
We come to the Centre two times a week, when I am free. There are lots of activities. For example we made shapes and we made a clock. Sometimes Save the Children divides us into groups. Both of us [me and my sister Shahd] made a clock. Sometimes in our groups we make plays and present them. Now I have friends. A year ago I didn’t have any friends. I made friends at school and at the Centre. I have some Egyptian friends. I have Syrian friends too. Now I can speak in an Egyptian accent.
I wish that I could speak several languages: English, French and German. I want to be a doctor.
Project and background information
Shahd and Marah attend one of Save the Children’s CFCs. In CFS and in local community schools Save the Children provides a positive environment for children to play, learn and express themselves through recreational activities. The Healing and Education through the Arts (HEART) approach is used to accompany Early Childhood Development and Basic Education initiatives. Expressive and interactive tools such as theatre, drawing, painting, sculpture, music, dance, storytelling, sports, and other forms of artistic expression are used to provide psychosocial support to children affected by chronic stress or poverty. These expressive arts enhance learning activities and create fun and engaging learning environments for children, empowering and encouraging children to process and communicate their feelings and emotions.