Crisis in Syria, part 1: Memories of summer camp

Today, we're kicking off a weekly series about the two-year conflict in Syria and the region's subsequent refugee crisis. Every Wednesday for the next several weeks, we'll have a new story or perspective on this situation, so check back!

Today's post is by Andrea Peer, World Vision communications manager, who remembers a different Syria from a visit 11 years ago -- and wonders about its future.

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I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, or hearing. On one hand, it seemed so normal; but on the other hand, this was Syria, which, only weeks earlier, had been tagged as a “rogue state” by a U.S. official.

In a room full of bunk beds and giggling girls, the pastor’s wife began to play a large accordion. This was the first night of church summer camp in a sleepy little village on the west coast of Syria.

Beautiful, minor-key music filled the room, and all the girls began singing along -- except me. I was a recent college grad, spending a summer in the Middle East, not knowing a word of Arabic.

Huda, the pastor’s wife and camp coordinator, soon noticed that I wasn’t singing and stopped all the girls in order to teach me the songs. I took phonetic notes, then tried to join.

This was not how I had pictured Syria. Syria has been on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism since I was born. I had been nervous to come to such a place. But during my short stay, I fell in love with the green rolling hills of the coast, the breathtaking desert of the inland, the ruins, the camels, and the singing, giggling children.

(Photo: Andrea Peer/World Vision)

I spent a week with these children, having water-balloon fights, shooting hoops, painting faces, listening to Bible lessons in Arabic, watching the World Cup, and laughing as 14-year-old boys imitated Britney Spears.

That was almost 11 years ago: May 2002. Carina -- the sweet, blonde 12-year-old girl who wanted her photo taken with me -- would now be 23. I wonder what has happened to these children.

Has their quiet little village remained untouched? Is Carina still alive?

The news from Syria today is depressing and overwhelming.

In the past two years of violence, the United Nations estimates that 70,000 men, women, and children have been killed. Between 1.5 and 2.5 million Syrians have been displaced within the country, and nearly 1 million people have sought refuge in neighboring countries, including more than 100,000 since February 1.

Where are all those summer camp children today? Carina might have a family of her own by now. Is she still in her village, or did she flee for the safety and survival of her family?

Behind the violence and the images in the news, I know there is another Syria -- a place where families enjoy sipping their tea together, going to church together, and, hopefully somewhere, an accordion is still playing and children are singing.

Make a one-time donation to help World Vision provide emergency assistance for Syrian refugees. Your gift will help us deliver basic hygiene kits and food vouchers for refugee families, as well as established Child-Friendly Spaces to provide affected children with a safe place to play, learn, and interact with their peers.

Please join us in prayer for all World Vision staff members working around the world, particularly in this region of conflict.

Also, consider joining World Vision’s Hope Prayer Team. Each month, you’ll receive an email containing suggested prayer points for those in need, for World Vision’s work, and for our staff -- as well as news from around the world, guided prayer points for urgent requests, and links to other ways you can care for children in need.

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