"It is very important to have space for women and children where they can have protection and privacy as well as some normalcy," said Weihui Wang, World Vision's Child Protection and Participation Lead.
Meeting mothers from Syria
This Saturday, I got to meet real-life superheroes. They were refugee mothers, recently arrived from the Middle East having escaped Syria. All of them had come to a giant playdate organized by World Vision and the Mennonite Central Committee for their families.
In some ways, the playdate wasn’t much different from a typical Canadian party. There were craft tables, face painting, and a bouncy castle. How many times have I stood talking with moms at similar events, while our children played? But in other ways, Saturday couldn’t have been more different.
Many of the families knew very little English, so spoke with me through translators. Some had been in Canada only a couple of weeks. Others had been here longer, but hadn’t met any other Syrians in the towns where they’re living. The mothers greeted one another with a sense of immediate recognition, even if they’d never met before. In a sense, they knew one another already.
The wonder of mother Bareaa
Bareaa’s name means “a wonderful thing,” and the name fits. I’ve never met a woman so generous with her warmth, her smiles and her hugs. Despite the cruelty and deprivation she’s endured, Bareaa was so quick to see and feel the joy that she could see all around her. And do everything that she could for other Syrian refugee mothers and their children.
“Sister, I came today because I wanted to meet other Syrians,” Bareaa, told me. “I want to help them with anything they need. My sponsored family gave me so very much – and I want to give some to others.”
Beyond thanking and hugging any Canadian she spoke with, Bareaa was looking out for the other Syrian children at the playdate.
“All of the children are happy and smiling,” she said, her eyes filled with joy. “I can see that they are doing well.” Because the playdate was a happy event, I didn’t want to spoil things by asking painful questions. But as the children ran and played together, I found myself looking over at the mothers, watching them.
Many of the women carry memories that their new friends in Canada may never be able to understand. Bareaa shared one story.
“When we were in the crowds, leaving, we saw one woman running with a cushion,” she tells me. “She was carrying a cushion.” I kept listening, curious. Of all the things to bring with her during a sudden exodus, why did this mother choose a cushion? I soon realized I was processing this story as someone who’s never experienced the shattering effects of war.
“She thought she had grabbed her little boy,” explained Bareaa, her warm eyes filling with tears. “She looked up suddenly and said to us, ‘It’s not my son!’”
I needed to step away for a while, and pull myself together before returning to the party.
My message to Syria’s mothers
I didn’t get to tell the mothers at the party everything that I wanted to. And there are thousands of Syrian mothers living in Canada whom I’ll never meet at a playdate.
Here’s what I want to say to them:
“Bravo, sister. I honour you. I would do anything to take away some of the pain that you’ve experienced. And I know that I’ll never understand what you carry around inside.”
“But your children – they’re so beautiful. And you’ve used all of your resources – your love, your patience, and your creativity – to keep them alive and healthy. You’ve taught them when there was no school and comforted them when there was nothing comforting to say. You’ve made ‘home’ in camps, tents, and on the side of the road.”
“I will do whatever I can, through my donations, through my prayers and through my writing, to help carry your children to safety and happiness.”
This International Women’s Day, please join me in thinking of Syria’s mothers. Your donation to Syrian refugees overseas
can do a world of good.