A school has become more engaged in the global refugee crisis following an exercise in empathy with students. They have had bespoke bracelets produced for their summer festival, made by several Syrian refugee ladies in Istanbul.
We asked one of the parents, and key donor of the bracelets, together with one of the Syrian ladies, currently in Istanbul who were commissioned to make the bracelets, a set of questions. Their answers were incredibly moving from refugees both past and present looking to the future generation with hope.
What is the most important thing, for you, about these bracelets?
SYRIAN LADY: Making the bracelets are helping us to make money and support our children. The most important thing the money is used for is rent and schooling for the kids, the most important thing for us and what ‘breaks our backs’ is the rent, it’s more important than the food and clothes, if we don’t have money for the rent they will be out on the streets. We can live without eating so much food, we can live with less, we can live without buying new clothes (nobody is seeing us), we can swap between us and share our clothes. In Syria we owned our own house, we were never in a situation where we needed to think about money for rent, but here in Turkey if we don’t pay the rent it will cause many more problems for us.
SCHOOL PARENT: I am an American journalist, living in England, however, my parents were Bulgarian refugees who escaped from Communism in 1971 and lived in a refugee camp for six months outside Vienna, where I was conceived. My parents loved their country but not the politics of Communism. They received political asylum from the U.S. and my parents arrived to America in 1972 with $80, one suitcase, my baby brother and me on the way. I was the first in all the generations of my family to be born in America. My father was a surgeon in Bulgaria and went on to become chief surgeon at a hospital in Miami Beach, Florida. My mother was a nurse/midwife in Bulgaria and went on to become a maternity nurse in America. They didn’t accept her medical degree from Bulgaria and she had to go back to college to do all her training again as a nurse when she arrived in America. But once she finished her coursework, she found a job as a nurse on the maternity ward at a hospital in Miami and delivered babies there for 25 years until shortly before she died.
The bracelets to me signify their bravery and voice, in a less-than-accepting world. I’m less concerned about the bracelets themselves per se than about bringing more global attention to the crisis in Syria and that particularly of the refugees, to show that we are all people, regardless of race, religion or the colour of our skin…and that refugees are neither dumb, ignorant, uneducated or trying to game the system of another country. Refugees are in the position they are in because life at home was so dangerous, or their human rights and political freedoms so suppressed that they had no choice but to leave their homeland and beloved countries. We could all be refugees if our governments changed from a democracy to a dictatorship, and the same horrors unfolded in our own lands.
What is your message to the people who will wear these bracelets?
SYRIAN LADY: In Syria I used to feel like a mother more than in Turkey, because in Syria I used to spend more time with my kids, I used to take more care with them. I used to spend in time educating them, playing with them, taking them out, take care of all their needs. But here in Turkey I don’t feel this because I have to go out and work, I am giving them what they need but it’s not enough, I love & provide for them but not in the same way as in Syria, I am taking care of them in the general things, practical matters but not in the deep, quality time, what’s what really makes me a mother. We both suffer from this, me as a mother and them as the children. Our message to the mothers and children who will wear these bracelets is, buy more! Share the message of what the bracelet represents to you! Tell everyone, tell your friends and show everyone, do some marketing and advertising for us!
SCHOOL PARENT: My message to festival goers is to:
“Put your biases aside. What does a refugee look like? You may be surprised to know that a refugee looks exactly like me”, and that “People don’t walk 2000 miles across Europe because they want to go camping and sleep in a tent. They leave their homelands because their human rights have been violated and what they are looking for isn’t your pity, but for acceptance, the chance at freedom and the opportunity to live in a safe haven. They are looking for hope”.
But I have a message for the Syrian women and their families. To them I’d say, “Please don’t ever give up hope, despite how dark life seems at the moment. You are all so very very brave and I have so much respect for how far you’ve come already and the deepest sympathy for your losses at home. You will find a way to a new life and a new community. Trust in the kindness of people, embrace those that help you and keep showing the rest of the world how to open their hearts and their minds.”
What is your hope for the future?
SYRIAN LADY: We wish that our kids will hopefully be successful in their lives and never live the crisis that we are living now. Most importantly I want them to continue their education.
The question was also asked to their children, their response is… at first a hesitant silence, then one of their sons says that he wishes for his mother ‘good work, not more work, but good work, a happy life and to stay strong’
(The mother gives him a gentle nod and he smiles shyly)
SCHOOL PARENT: My hopes for these refugees is that they are granted political asylum soon and are able to find new beginnings where they can find hope, acceptance, peace, safety, freedom and some semblance of a normal life where they aren’t viewed as a refugee but as an equal, and allowed to shine.
… As I prepare to move back to the U.S. in a corporate move that will ship the entire contents of our house on a 40ft container, I just thought how truly privileged I am and how remarkable it was that my parents arrived in America with just one suitcase, having left all their worldly possessions behind that night they escaped. They were very brave.
Most importantly, I just wanted to reassure these Syrian women and their families that there is hope. We were one of the families that made it and succeeded through a lot of determination and hard work. It wasn’t always easy but my parents never gave up.
I owe my parents a lot of gratitude for the life they gave me and the choices they made to ensure our freedom.
I hope my words can offer some comfort and, at a minimum, some understanding.
Events like this allow a crucial moment and platform for people, like these, to narrate a story and craft empathy. We, too, hope that the Syrian ladies’ children could echo words such as these from the school parent in years to come.
If you are interested in creating a bespoke product, working with marginalised communities, for your event please get in touch as we are keen to develop more empathy in events through products and event hosts sharing the stories behind the products.