Ibrahim’s story: A chance to play is a chance to heal

Jordan, Syria

August 22, 2013

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  • Ibrahim holds his baby cousin, Khaled, near his family's tent at Zaatari refugee camp. He says the hot, dusty weather is hard to bear. Photo: Sumaya Agha/Mercy Corps
  • Ibrahim hasn't been able to go to school since arriving at the camp six months ago. Playing with his little brother, Amir, and other kids at the Mercy Corps activity tent has helped shy Ibrahim make friends. Photo: Mercy Corps/Sumaya Agha
  • Building Legos is one of Ibrahim's favorite things to do. Activities like this keep the kids using their mind creatively so they can heal from trauma. Photo: Sumaya Agha/Mercy Corps
  • Ibrahim points out his drawing, another one of the activities offered for the children. Photo: Sumaya Agha/Mercy Corps

Ibrahim is one of a family of eight children from A Sheikh Maskeen, in southern Syria, near the Jordanian border. This sweet eight-year-old is also one of more than 65,000 Syrian refugee children living in Zaatari refugee camp, and one of the one million registered Syrian refugee children throughout the Middle East.

Six months ago, after a day of heavy and random bombing, half of his family left for Jordan. They travelled by foot and by car through the harsh winter weather, assisted by the FSA. Ibrahim’s father and four older siblings stayed in Syria to maintain their grape orchard.

“I didn’t want to leave Syria,” Ibrahim told me. But he’s trying to enjoy life in the camp. “I get up early to get bread and water for my mother, then I play with my friends for the rest of the day. Life in the camp is beautiful, because of playing.”

Ibrahim lived through a year and a half of the conflict, with a clear view of gun battles and bombings from his home’s balcony. He says that he wasn’t frightened, until he speaks of the day he and his brother ran home from school during a barrage of bombing — then he acknowledges that he was very scared.

His mother, Sabah, said, “Because of the conflict and being trapped in our home, my kids are frightened to face life. They fear facing what is out of the home. Ibrahim doesn’t show what he feels in his heart.”

Activities are therapy

I spent the day with Ibrahim and his family yesterday. We played, drank Turkish coffee, ate a typically delicious and varied Syrian lunch, played some more and drank tea at their tent. After lunch we walked over to the playground and activity tent that Mercy Corps runs nearby their tent — there are five throughout the sprawling Zaatari camp.

It was time for the afternoon Lego session. Ibrahim and his younger brother, Amir, were quickly absorbed into building a variety of houses in different configurations and levels of utility.

Everyday Mercy Corps holds several activity sessions for the children living at Zaatari. The children learn, develop their fine motor skills and have an enormous amount of fun drawing, painting, participating in storytime, watching movies, crocheting, sewing, playing with Legos and building sandcastles.

SEE PHOTOS: Sandcastles bring happiness to Syrian kids

Ibrahim happily participates in many of the activities and enjoys building mountains, castles and tunnels out of sand, watching Tom and Jerry and Smurf cartoons, and drawing pictures with trees and grass “… like the grape orchard at home.”

Playing with his friends, drawing, and building Legos and sandcastles is therapy for Ibrahim. The focus he puts into these positive activities allows him to create and exercise his mind while forgetting the war he lived through and the house he no longer lives in.

His relatives believe that this child, who was once more introverted, is coming out if his shell because of his involvement in the Mercy Corps activities with other children.

Q+A: How our work helps children heal from trauma

Missing school, missing home

The camp’s harsh conditions do not escape him though. As I was profusely sweating in the intense heat, Ibrahim concisely and eloquently pointed out, “The weather here is like hellfire; the hot dusty weather is difficult.”

“What do you miss in Syria?” I asked.

“I miss my grandfather and the grape orchard. I miss playing with my cousins and brothers in Syria. I used to climb trees in the orchard. There are no trees here.

“I miss school in Syria. School in Syria is better. I miss math and playing with my friends at school.”

Ibrahim attended class in the refugee camp for a week after they arrived, but he was lost within the different curriculum that the Jordanian government is providing the kids and stopped attending.

So that he doesn’t get too far behind in school, his mother assured me that she’ll enroll Ibrahim in school next month, whether they return to Syria or stay in the camp.

The thought of returning to her home and the rest of her family in A Sheikh Maskeen is on her mind, for as she said, “We do have a peace of mind here, but I could eat lamb everyday and still not be happy living in this situation.”

At then end of our day together I asked Ibrahim what he wants to do when he grows up. He responded, “I want to be an eye doctor.” His mother explained that his uncle, who is an eye doctor in Russia, recently visited them. “Why do you want to be an eye doctor?” I asked.

Ibrahim answered without hesitation, “I want to heal.”

How you can help

  • Learn more about how we're protecting Syria's children. Share Ibrahim's story and others to raise awareness and support for a generation that needs our help to recover.

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