“We offer many activities like choir, chess, karate, table tennis, storytelling and children’s face painting. These things make children feel happy,”
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Ramadan is the holy month Muslims observe, during which they fast from dawn until sunset. Fasting is done by adults as an act of spiritual discipline and self-reflection. For Children, it is traditionally a period of excitement, and for those experiencing the war in Syria, it can be a time of much-needed respite.
The conflict has had a devastating impact on children, with many being displaced from their homes. However, in Jarabulus, a team of volunteers are offering a ray of hope to these children by providing them with an activity-packed experience they will never forget.
Trauma and hardship
Omer Al-Nayef is a volunteer working with the humanitarian organisation ‘Önder’. He says the volunteer team tries to simulate a typical Ramadan environment for the children, as many have experienced trauma and hardship.
“We offer many activities, like clown activities, group breakfasts, choir, chess, karate, table tennis, storytelling and children’s face painting. These things make children feel happy,” Omar tells SCENES.
Omer Al-Nayef joined the organisation as a volunteer to help displaced people like himself. “I was displaced to Jarabulus five years ago,” explains Omer. “I want to help displaced people because I know their pain. I have been through the same challenges they are going through,” he says.
A shared love
Omer’s wife, Iman Al-Nayef, volunteers as a teacher in the organisation. She says that she met Omer for the first time while volunteering. “I chose him to be my partner because he loves to support people in need,” she says. “Working together within the volunteer team was very positive for our relationship and our life in general, adds Omer.
The organisation has more than 50 men and women working within it, and each volunteer is committed to helping the most vulnerable in society. “The war has led people to experience displacement and suffering,” Iman tells SCENES. “I wanted to assist the needy and displaced people. I heard about this volunteer team, so I joined the team,” she says.
Over six million children
Many of the children helped by the organisation live in camps in Jarabulus and surrounding areas. According to United Nations statistics, over six million children require assistance, and three million are internally displaced.
‘Önder’ makes a special effort during Ramadan to create an environment of peace and happiness for the children. “We perform all activities to support children psychologically and to comfort them,” says Omer. “Many children need psychological support and help in addition to the educational work we are doing,” he explains.
Iman teaches the children about fasting and helps them to make festive decorations for the religious season. “We make objects such as the Ramadan lantern and the Ramadan crescent. We also teach children how the ‘Mesaharaty’, the traditional Ramadan drummer, wakes people up for the pre-dawn meal,” she says.
Aya, a 12-year-old girl from Allepo, joined the organisation’s choir group two years ago. She says that since she was young, she has always loved singing. “My friends and I train three days a week. We have a keyboard and a guitar, and we record and perform special songs for Ramadan,” says Aya.
‘I have always loved singing’
When Aya performs with the choir, she feels happy and fulfilled. “I am very happy because it is very different from the situation in the camp. I would like to develop my skills and teach other children so that they become as happy as me right now,” she says with a smile.
Uday is nine years old and lives in Al-Jabal camp on the outskirts of Jarabulus. He has been learning Karate for over a year and says that he has loved every minute. Karate allowed Uday to meet and bond with other children his age. He says that before joining the classes, he had no friends in his camp.
“When I came to the camp, I knew nothing about karate. The coach taught me the movements, and I trained and made friends. So far, I have got the yellow and green belts,” Uday tells SCENES.
Happiness is key
Omer says that children are most happy when they are doing something physical. He believes the children benefit from having a team of adults showing genuine interest in their lives.
“Children who lived through the war are deprived of many things. These children are like any child in the world. They need to learn, they need to play, they need enough food, they need clean water, they need a lot of things,” explains Omer. “When you see the child is happy, it means you are fulfilling your role in the volunteer team,” he says.
Omer, Iman and the rest of the Önder team are dedicated to improving the lives of displaced children, especially during Ramadan. They bring joy and comfort to children who have experienced unimaginable trauma and suffering. Their kindness and generosity will have a profound impact on these children well into the future.