Painting a place of beauty

11 Aug, 2015 | Near East
Nicole James
Short-term team begins painting walls in apartments of refugees.
Photo by Justin Lovett
Abdo, a young Syrian boy, watched the street for the group of foreigners to arrive. He’d been instructed to lead them through the neighbourhood’s cinderblock maze, up the winding concrete steps to his family’s one-room apartment.

Fidan, Abdo’s mother, met the group at the door, inviting them into the small space, approximately 27 square meters, which housed her family of five. Two simple sofas, a couple foam mattresses, a wardrobe, and a vacuum that doubled as a stool were the only pieces of furniture that needed to be moved. The mattresses and one sofa went into the hallway. Plastic sheets and an old, button-up shirt provided ample protection for the rest.

“Because they left Syria during explosions, they came with the clothes on their back and the shoes at the door,” translated Heather*, the long-term worker leading the six short-term volunteers during the two-week Transform 2015 outreach in the Near East.

When the fighting in Syria had started, Fidan’s family moved from Aleppo to Afrin. Her husband had already gone to another country, looking for work. While in Afrin, the family’s house in Aleppo was bombed. The house in Afrin followed, one of Fidan’s sons badly injured in the explosion. Then they left, following four million other Syrians who have fled the country over the course of this civil war.

Fidan’s husband had originally procured a decent job, but then his employer fired the Kurdish workers. Now, he earns $400 a month, $300 of which pays the rent.

For the Transform participants, spending two days painting four families’ apartments provided a chance not only to help a handful of refugees but also to hear their stories.

Marioligne, a doctor who will start three years of general practice in the fall, said she came to the Near East to learn about the culture. Fidan’s story, perhaps, was more than she’d expected. “When she told us about the bombs and everything, I was thinking about the fear and anger with the little children, [the need to] bring them to a place that’s safe. I was also thinking about the children, everything they have seen and heard, growing up in a war, that’s not normal.”

And yet, the children continued to play as the volunteers painted. “They’re a very cute family. The boys look so sweet,” Janna, a nursing student, said. She was also impressed by their hospitality and ability to live on almost no money.

After a few hours, the team broke to enjoy the lunch Fidan had prepared on a single gas burner in her small kitchen. They’d work a couple more hours that day, but already the fresh paint had made a difference, erasing the grey crack running down the far wall and covering the dried cement spilling halfway down another.

Looking around the room – her home – Fidan said she liked the color. “It’s so much better than before.” With the leftover paint, she planned to paint her kitchen, a few strokes enough to cover the handful of exposed meters.

“You’re strong because you’re a Kurdish woman,” Heather told her.

“What am I supposed to do?” Fidan answered. Her husband’s two brothers died in hospital in Syria, she said. And just that morning on Facebook, she’d found out about another death in the family.

The stories are the same everywhere in the neighborhood where Heather serves. “Nidal and Gihan, same. Silva, same,” she said, listing a few of her closest Kurdish friends. “Everyone I work with had to flee their home and now has no home to go back to.”

For Fidan, though, a fresh coat of paint offered a brief respite from the ongoing pain. “We came in today, and she’s happy,” Heather said. “We’re not going to be able to solve the problem, but we can bring a little light to her house…There’s so little here that’s beautiful, but to have a house that’s clean and bright, it makes it feel more like a home.”

*Name changed

Nicole James is a freelance journalist, ESL teacher, and adventurer. A communications intern for OM MENA, she’s passionate about publishing the stories of God’s works among the nations, telling people about the wonderful things He is doing in the world.

Credit: Nicole James · © 2015 OM International This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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