This year, I went to Turkey to help World Vision International share its work with Syrian refugees at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. To understand the situation on the ground more deeply, I met with some of the refugees World Vision is helping in Ṣanliurfa, 50 km north of the Syrian border. That's where I met Lamia, who was only 15 when her family fled the war in Syria. Lamia takes art classes at the Urfa Community Centre, which World Vision supports. Art offers a powerful way for children, youth and adults to express and heal some of the trauma they've experienced in Syria.
“You are a talented artist, Lamia. Who is this boy, and what were you trying to express with this painting?” I pointed to a picture of crying boy, standing in front of a pile of rubble.
“This painting means more than one thing,” Lamia explained. “First, it depicts the killing and bombing in Syria. It also expresses the suffering of the children, because that affects me deeply. He cannot play, or live life anymore.”
“Is this a boy you know?”
“No. He represents all the children of Syria.”
Several of Lamia’s paintings are displayed at the centre, and she has done many more, including the one of this wistful child at the doorway of a tent. Some of them depict Syria, others depict violence against women. She takes as many classes as she can at the centre, including painting, photography, digital storytelling, plus English lessons. I asked her how she feels when she is painting.
“I have a perfect feeling when I am drawing. It allows me to express my feelings.”
“Is there one picture that is especially meaningful to you?”
“Yes, one of my uncle. It’s at home. He died in the war.”
“I am so sorry,” I responded. I was relieved to learn that her immediate family all made it safely out of Deeralzor, where they're from, to the Syrian countryside, then to Raqqa, Syria. 18 months ago, they finally arrived in Turkey. Since they fled 3 years ago, Lamia has not been able to attend school. Many Syrian children in Turkey do not school, because there are not enough facilities, nor do they speak fluent Turkish. Even so, Lamia took high school exams in Turkey, but without the chance to study, didn't succeed. Instead, she pours herself into art.
My heart goes out to this young, talented woman. The fact that conflict inspires much of her art should not be the reality.