The voice of Syrian children arrives on Skype: “Life before the war was happy”

Date 08.11.2018

by Sara Bernacchia - La Repubblica, Milan edition

Comparison between students: 160 boys and girls at their 7th grade are sitting in the audience of Baldoni auditorium in Milan (Italy), whereas ten others of their same age are in class. The Skype connection eliminates the 3,500-kilometre distance which separates Milan from Lebanon and the kids can see each other: they look similar, if it wasn’t for the veil that surrounds the girls’ heads, it would be difficult to tell the differences among them.

The questions begin, with Imane Habib, AVSI staff, who is the interpreter, and Giulia who asks “How was life before the war?” “It was beautiful and very happy” a little girl with a light blue hijab answers. She tells of having escaped from Idlib, her hometown, when she was nine.

She and her classmates are refugees who live in Lebanon, the majority of them in the refugee camps. They are taking part in the “Back to the future” project, funded by the European Union and implemented by AVSI, Terre des Hommes Italia, Terre des Hommes Holland and War Child Holland, involving 21,700 children and 500 teachers.

The aim of the project is “to reduce the consequences that the war has caused on the lives of these children and their families”, Ilaria Masieri from Terres des Hommes explains to the students of the “Istituto comprensivo Borsi” in Milan. This is why education is fundamental. It represents the card to play to have a future. “The most difficult part is having them admitted to Lebanese schools” Masieri tells “There, the scientific subjects are studied in English and French, two languages that Syrian children don’t know. In our centers we provide schooling to enable them to pass the entrance exam”.

The answers, at first given in a very shy and measured way, become more articulated and the Syrian children raise their hands excited to take the floor. If, once asked about their personal future, their answers change depending on who would like to become a football player, who an English teacher or a hairdresser, for what concerns what they dream for their future their answer is the same. All of them would like to go back home, “but as it was before, with the same people”, since everyone hopes that Syria will one day “go back to being as it was before the war, even more developed”.

The comparison, even if mediated and prepared with the help of the teachers, has not left the students indifferent.

“Seeing them and listening to their words is different than having a discussion in class about what they’ve gone through” Cecilia from II H explains, “It is possible to feel their emotions”. And, inevitably, the comparison arrives too. “Lots of things we give for granted, such as school, are fundamental to them, also for their future” Giulia adds “They’re always saying they’d like to go back to the life they had before. It is possible to understand that they are suffering a lot”.