Lacy MacAuley

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a home for my pen, projects, and passions

“Bombs. We left.” -Syrian refugee

Resilient, amazing refugees. We just returned last night from a refugee camp in Torbali, Turkey. Services there are provided by a wonderful, small German nonprofit organization called German Alliance for Civilian Assistance e.V. – gemeinnützig. The people there are mostly displaced Syrian farmers and farm workers. Syrian refugees now provide cheap labor for farms in Turkey, and over the past three years have replaced many jobs formerly held by Turkish workers. Syrian hands now do much of the fruit picking, vegetable washing, and other farm labor in Turkey.

“Bombs. We left.” That was the simple explanation from one man, who through pantomime and a few words of English, explained that he had olive trees in Syria. Now here in Turkey, he is a low-paid farm worker. After I was invited inside his family tent for tea, seeing his wife, two children, and extended family, I could see the simple life desired by them: just a life of peace.

Lacy - Torbali Refugee Camp

The brightness of the children at the Torbali refugee camp will forever be with me. (Photo: Önder Arslan)

These refugees are part of a stable camp. A survey was conducted in the camp that showed that not one family wants to go to Europe. What most want to do is simply build a life for themselves here where it is safe, save money for their return to Syria, and go back as soon as they can. Turkey has more refugees than any other country, and most are just trying to stay safe.

Children there are brilliant and inspiring, but have no school and few activities throughout the day. There are five Syrian teachers in the camp, but they cannot earn money from teaching, so they must also go out to the fields to work.

In the short time that I was there, after I did some interviews for articles, my task was folding and sorting clothes for a small donations supply center. But I could not ignore the children, who watched us all day like television. They constantly tried to get our attention in creative and innovative ways. I got the feeling that mostly, they just wanted a little smile, a kind word… They just wanted to be seen.

I played a few little number games with the children, mostly how to say numbers in English and identify the written numbers on a page that was present. (The only actual page with writing that I could find was an order slip from the volunteers’ lunch.) Kids were so eager for new activities that many ran over just to participate.

One woman there was part of a family traveling with her mother, brother, sister-in-law, several cousins, and many children. We went to the hospital with her because she had stomach pains, couldn’t keep food down, and had other aches and pains; she doesn’t speak Turkish, so needed help to navigate the hospital system. Thankfully, she had many tests run and has no serious ailments (food poisoning or stomach flu may be the diagnosis), but the whole experience must have been harrowing. She is one of the lucky ones. Many refugees have illnesses that go untreated for far too long.

There is so much more to say about this. My main takeaway is that people are amazing, resilient, and full of heart. Everywhere. What most of us want is very simple. We want love and we want peace.

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