UNICEF: The unbreakable bond of sisterhood

Jinan, 6, Noor, 11, and Sahed 9, pictured with their grandparents, Abdulkadir, 67and Fehime, 65, who have become their primary caregivers after they lost both their parents in the war in Syria.
Jinan, 6, Noor, 11, and Sahed 9, pictured with their grandparents, Abdulkadir, 67and Fehime, 65, who have become their primary caregivers after they lost both their parents in the war in Syria.

Three Syrian refugee sisters are rebuilding their lives in Izmir with the help of the UNICEF-supported Al Farah Child and Family Support Centre, funded by the European Union.

The centre, one of 6X such established across the country, provides a range of the child-centred services for refugee children and their families to help them meet their basic and protection needs.

In the eighth year of the brutal conflict in Syria, we meet Jinan, age six, her tiny body paralyzed from the chest down by a bomb that exploded in her home. Born into war, Jinan and her sisters are among the 1.6 million Syrian refugee children living in Turkey today.

Dilsat is a family counsellor and child psychologist working at the UNICEF-supported Al Farah Child and Family Support Centre in Izmir, run by the Turkish organization “Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants” (ASAM). Every week for the past seven months, she has worked to assuage Jinan’s trauma and help the three sisters piece their broken childhoods back together. “I do this by focusing on strengthening the bonds of sisterhood and helping the family learn to become a more supportive unit,” says Dilsat. Thanks to this support, Jinan and her sisters have begun putting this painful past behind them.

A Grandfather’s love…
Abdulkadir Hamdul Ibrahim was a 67-year old grandfather of ten living in Syria when the war forced him to flee to Turkey, and fate led him to fatherhood once again. His son, Mahmoud, once owned a spice shop but was forced to move to the Turkish border to sell diesel to support his family. It was there that he died. “Now I am father to ten kids, six girls and four boys,” counting Mahmoud and his children among the total. “No father should ever have to bury his own son….”

On Fridays, I take the girls to see Dilsat. I feel a sense of relief because someone is there to give them the support they need. They also have music, drawing and crafts, which takes their mind off the pain. I don’t know where we would be without this assistance in our lives.” Abdulkadir will never get past the death of his son, but he is deeply grateful for the Al-Farah Centre, which has put his family back on the path towards recovery.

“I’m so grateful my neighbours told me about Al Farah Centre…they have  been like a second family to us” he says.

Healing the wounds of war
Dilsat provides counselling and psychosocial support to refugee and migrant children, to help them process and recover from the displacement and trauma they’ve endured. With children like Jinan and her sisters, she uses play therapy. Play therapy, Dilsat explains, “is not structured, you do not tell them what to do but you let them be. With Jinan, I let her express herself. She may be unable to describe her problems with words, but she can play with puppets and dolls and draw her feelings. I am then able to interpret what is needed through her play.”

More than a community centre – a second family
“The very first session was with the grandparents,” Dilsat explains, “to see things from their eyes. They feel an immense sense of responsibility towards their grandchildren. Jinan’s grandfather is highly committed. He and the children take several buses to get to the centre and he carries Jinan’s heavy wheelchair on and off each time. But despite all these challenges, he hasn’t missed a single session with his girls.

“At first, I worked with the girls separately, but decided it would be best to have them together during consultations. I also asked the grandparents to give Jinan some responsibilities at home, instead of doing everything for her. I explained that Jinan needed to take on some tasks to help her rebuild her self-confidence. As a result, the relationship between the sisters and family has become much stronger.”

Dilsat, who has been with ASAM since she finished her degree in child psychology, works tirelessly to help heal the wounds of war. Contributing to the healing of these children is my motivation,” she says. “It’s about seeing the effect of our work directly – we can see real changes in their moods, their health situation, and their desire to attend school.” Dilsat sighs briefly before flashing a bright, if weary, smile. “It’s a long process, but so well worth it.”

In collaboration with UNICEF, and with funding from the European Union (from 2015 – 2018) and other partners, the 6 Al Farah Centres in 5 provinces throughout Turkey enable refugees and asylum seekers to meet their basic and social protection needs. These centres are a “one-stop” shop for families and provide a series of child-friendly and child focused services.