“It's not easy to start over in a new place" Erasmus + KA 2 "in a far away land: refugee children"

I used to live in a small city, near Damasco. I had a normal life: I went to school, practiced sports, hung out with my friends, walked with my family. Everything was going well. I had a happy family: my dad was a lawyer, my mum didn’t work, and my younger brother was in school with me.

But everything changed with the beginning of the war.

Our life seemed like a russian roulette: we could be caught in the middle of the street and be shoot for no reason, a bomb could destroy our home at any time, even the children could be tortured by the soldiers from government if they were suspected of terrorism!

We all feared for our lives.

Despite all this I didn’t want to leave Syria. It was my country, my homeland, and so I felt that I couldn’t live elsewhere.

But one day everything changed. All the reluctance I had about leaving my home disappeared. In that day, as usual in every Saturdays, I got up to help my dad with the weekly shopping, but something was wrong: the streets were even more empty than usual and the silence was abysmal.

We were walking apprehensively and fearfully when a squad of 5 soldiers approached us and dragged us to an alley. They started yelling at us and accused us of being terrorists, fighting the government and being traitors. They wanted to kill us right there, shoot us in the middle of the street, with no trial or justice, and that is what they would have done if it wasn’t for an old lady, who saved us. I won’t ever forget her. We had never seen her, but she risked her life, and begging the soldiers to let us go because we were from her family she managed to save us. In that same day, we decided to run away.

This Syria was no longer the one we knew.

In the next day, we left aimless and hopeless, with all our saves and everything else that fitted in our backpacks. We traveled on foot to Lebanon and in four days we did over 100km to Sidon. We were exhausted and sore, and my brother, who was only 13 years old, had his feet hurt and was dehydrated, he couldn’t walk anymore. It was then that we found a “coyote”, a refugee smuggler, who promised us that he would take us to Europe, for 500,000 Syrian pounds, about 4500 €. We gave him almost all our savings, because we really wanted to reach Europe, our only escape, our only hope…

Then, we left with other refugees and traveled for 2 days, without leaving the truck or being able to look outside. We don’t know where they took us, just that we were kept in a warehouse for 2 months, with no drinkable water and with almost no food. That's when my brother got sick. He was very weak because of the trip.

But one day, they took us to an old fishing boat and towed it to open ocean, where they left us with few supplies. We were more than 40, and floated randomly for what seemed an eternity, until one night the boat started filling up with water. It was a total mess. Everyone started screaming and almost flipped the boat upside down. I just stood there staring at the sky. I had lost all the hope and I couldn’t react anymore. Wouldn’t it be better to die right there, towards an indifferent, hypocrite, and unfair Europe rather than keep dragging that endless fight? And it was then when I fell into the water, pushed by someone, and started to be dragged. I tried to swim against the current, but it was to strong and there was nothing that I could do. Someone threw a life vest at me, and I grabbed it for a few hours, until being rescued by a Greek navy boat, already at dawn.

I was getting into hypothermia and couldn’t think about anything, I was literally freezing, but when we arrived at the coast everything came to my mind: where was my family? I tried to speak with the militaries, but they couldn’t understand me, I didn’t even know how to speak English.

Against my will, they left me in a refugee’s camp, and I spent my day there waiting for my parents to come, which never happened. I heard in the next day that a ship had sank and the survivors were few. I didn’t know if it was our boat or not, but something inside me told me that my family was okay. I spent a lot of time in the refugee’s camp, until eventually everything became a routine, but there was no sign of my parents or brother.

I gave up waiting for them.

I had already spent too much time there. I decided to leave again, without money, sad and alone. It cost me a lot because I really wanted to find my family. But I had my whole life ahead of me, and I really wanted to get somewhere where my future was assured, so I headed to Germany. The journey was long and hard: I found many people who accepted to give me a ride, but I was also jeered many times by the ones that were passing by, just because I was a refugee. I didn’t understand what they were saying, but I could tell it was bad and they even tried to beat me once. It was a disappointment to me. I thought Europe was different, more tolerant and civilized, and never expected to find this kind of racist attitudes, from the ones that don’t know how everything can change from one moment to the next, how hard your life can become in a fraction of second, and manly, that this can happen to anyone.

I kept going without hesitation, until I finally arrived in Munich, in the south of Germany. I was very lucky. I was accepted in a refugee’s program, I received asylum and I’m now learning English, but I never had news from my parents. Maybe they haven’t survived, maybe they were simply swallowed by the waters of the Mediterranean, but I never gave up on searching for them, and something inside me tells me they are looking for me too, because after all, hope is the last thing to lose.

Trabalho original da autoria de alunos da Escola Secundária Pinheiro e Rosa - Agrupamento de Escolas Pinheiro e Rosa, em Faro.

Texto - Gonçalo Jacob, 11ºB

Ilustrações - Rafael Pina, 11º TPC

There is no place like home

Story based on real testemonies of refugees, written by Luisa Lino - 11ºB

My life was always pretty ordinary, normal friends, normal parents that could be a little… uh you know... annoying, I even had a boyfriend, okay you got me there, it was a crush, he didn’t feel the same way, but like I said, I had a super normal life.

I always felt safe in my country. There were countries close to mine that were at war, but they were far away right? It couldn’t happen to us right? Everything was fine, everything was normal. Until it wasn’t.

The war started when I was 13. At that time, I still felt safe at home, I didn’t know anything about what was happening, but I used to hear my parents talking about the danger we were in. I was a little scared, I mean we all were, but we still had hope… Nothing happened in the year that went by, so we thought that maybe our city wouldn’t be affected “I guess God is protecting us” I used to hear. Everything was close to fine. And then everything changed.

I was in my room when the first attack hit us. Everything was so calm, the birds were singing a cheerful melody and a soft breeze filled the air, and then there was just noise. A high pitch sound filled my ears from the explosion, I coudn’t hear or see anything, I was so scared that I started screaming, and I screamed for just a few seconds, but they felt like hours.

After the initial shock, I knew I had to do something, no matter how scared I was. I put together all the strength that I still had and got up. As soon as I stood up my legs started trembling, I was petrified, but my little sister was in the house, I had to go and get her. At that time, I was no longer scared for my life, I was scared for hers. I was 14 years old but she was only 8… “Enough” I thought “This is not the time to be afraid”. I gathered all the courage that I could find in me and prayed to God for strength and ran across the house, obvious of what was happening right outside the window, for my only goal was to get my little sister. I jumped through the wreckage of my destroyed home. My house was gone. Everything was just gone. I didn’t stop but I could feel the tears in my eyes, running down my cheeks.

I saw her under a door, with her leg trapped under it. She was alive. I looked up and smiled. I got my sister out of the house and we ran outside. I looked around and started crying. Everything was gone. I hugged my sister, who was screaming and crying, and I told her “Zahra, don’t cry. Everything is going to be alright, okay? I need you to be strong for me. Can you do that?” She looked up and stared at me. She nodded, and in that moment, she wipped away her tears, clenched her teeth and said “Let’s go and find mom and dad.” I stared at her surprised, I felt chills running down my body, I was so proud of her. She grabbed my hand and we walked through the street. It was horrible. Everyone was screaming and crying in despair. Looking for their loved ones.

I searched across the street for someone in trouble or asking for help. I saw a man trapped under a wall that had colapsed, I knew I had to help him. I covered Zahra’s eyes. She was strong, but she was so young and pure. In the middle of all that evil, I wanted to preserve her purity. I held her hand and told her not to move. Not really sure about what I was going to do, I ran over to the fallen wall. I tried so hard to lift the wall up but it didn’t move. Not even a little. I called for help in the middle of the chaos, but nobody came. I knelt before him, there was nothing more that I could do. I felt so much pain, like my heart was being crushed and I couldn’t breathe. He held my hand and, for my surprise, he smiled. I started crying and I couldn’t stop, I didn’t want to stop. I cried for everything that had happened during that year, my country, my family, my home. He looked at me and stroked my hand. “Do not cry my child. Be strong. There was nothing that you could do for me, but you still tried. You have a good heart. Don’t be afraid.” And just like that he was gone. I kissed him in the forehead and took my hijab to cover his face. I prayed. I prayed for his soul and for ours. I prayed for everyone that was going through the same thing I was. I prayed for the world.

I got myself back together, wipped my tears, and got back to my sister. At that moment, it hit me. My life, our life, was never going to be the same again. It was never going to be what we expected it to be.

We kept walking, searching and searching for a familiar face. I was floating in my head, disconnected from the world, and then I heard her. “Mom!” I yelled running towards her with my sister by the arm. We hugged. We were finally united and I felt safe, eventhough I knew I wasn’t, but I knew my family would protect me. We hugged each other so tight, like nobody could ever break that bond.

Our home was destroyed. Our friends were nowhere to be seen. There was nothing for us there, so we left.

We were on the road for so long. Jumping from city to city. Surrounded by chaos, noise, panic, destruction. Our beautiful and peaceful country was turned into hell by the terrorists that killed for Islam. But Islam is not about violence. It is not about killing. It is about love and peace. It is about tolerance and acceptance. And those monsters were turning my beautiful religion into something that it was not. I watched the news. I knew what people would think about what was happening: That islamists were all terrorists. But that wasn’t true. The terrorists were not islamists. They were fighting for a false God, because Allah is a God of good.

I can’t remember exactly how long it had been since we left our home, but I knew that we weren’t going to return, at least not for a long time. Still, everyday I dreamed about my house, my friends, my old life.

One more year had gone by and I thought “Okay, end off the ride, no more running. This is our new home now.” The attacks had stopped, at least where we were. Everything was starting to settle down. Maybe they realised that there was no need for violence and destruction. Maybe the war was over. Or so I liked to think. But I couldn’t be more wrong.

The next thing I remember was the attack on our new home. Men with uniforms, armed to the teeth, broke into every house in the city, shooting everyone that stood in their way. Me, my sister and my mom were in a store down town when it happened. When we heard the gunfire our first instinct was to run as fast as we could, following the terrified crowd, but my mother grabbed us and told us that we would get killed if we ran outside. So, we hid under the shelves. My mother gazed at us. I could see the fear in her eyes, masked by strength. It didn’t take long until two men showed up at the store. My sister was right in front of me, I couldn’t see her because of the darkness but I could feel her shaking... she was terrified. And so was I. Everything was so quiet. We held our breath. The silence in the room was frightening. I heard foot steps coming in our direction. The two men split up. I searched for the man’s feet, trying to see where he was. He approached our section and looked down, spoting my sister’s leg. I didn’t really think, I just crawled to her and covered her with my body, if he was going to take her he would have to take me as well. I looked him in the eyes and he looked into mine. I didn’t know if he was going to kill us or not but I couldn’t look away. And then, for my surprise, he said: “Nothing here. Let´s go.” He looked at me again with pain in his eyes and ran away. I exhaled in relieve and thankfulness. After that, minutes turned into hours, until we felt that it was safe to leave and finally got out of the shop. That day stayed with me until today, I realised that not everyone fighting for their cause was possessed by evil.

After that, my parents decided that it wasn’t safe for us anymore. There were no jobs left, half of the houses were destroyed, only a few schools were open, and only the richest could afford it. There was nothing left for us and eventhough we loved our country, it wasn’t the country that we knew anymore.

There was only one option for us: to leave.

We drove north until the car stopped working, after that we followed our path on foot. I don’t really know how long we walked but when we got to the place we were looking for, the moon was shinning up in the sky. It was beautiful. I gazed at the moon and the stars for a little while, it was so breathtaking, so beautiful, so pure, that I forgot about everything that had happened, I forgot that we were leaving to never return, and a feeling of peace invaded my body, shivered through my bones, I felt so alive, so free.

Our father called us and we followed him to a little airshed made of wood, inside was an old plane. I knew that the moment to say goodbye to our country, to our home, had arrived. I wasn’t really sure about what I was feeling, the emotions were so different, I was sad but happy, scared but calm, anxious but relieved. I got into the airplane with my sister. I looked back searching for my mother’s eyes, looking for courage for our next journey, but she wasn’t there, she didn’t get into the plane, neither did my father, I looked at them confused “What are you doing? Just get in!” but they didn’t move “Get in! Just get in please!” I said sobbing, I knew what was happening but I just coudn’t believe it “Please...” I begged almost without strength to stand. My mother climbed the ramp that led to the inside of the airplane, my dad followed her. They kneeled beside me and Zahra, stroked our hair and wipped our tears. “We are so sorry, but we can’t go, there is no room for us. We don’t want to leave you but you have to go. It’s not safe anymore, you have to go, be happy, have a life, a real life, the life that you deserve. Please forgive us, and don’t worry to much, we will see each other again", my mother said with her voice trembling. My father hugged me and said in my ear “I love you, we love you both, we can’t be with you in the beginning of your new life, but we are always going to be with you. I need you to know that you are never going to be alone. And most of all I need you to be strong. Take care of your sister and don’t be afraid. Remember, being brave is not being fearless, being brave is not to be scared and do what you have to do despite of it.”

The pilot yelled that it was time to go. We hugged one last time and my parents left the plane. As the plane was starting to take off my parents screamed “We love you! Never forget that!” Me and my sister watched my parents starting to become smaller and smaller, as the plane gained altitude. We held hands and cried. We didn’t say anything. I knew that there was a possibility for that to happen. For us to leave without our parents. And I tried to prepare myself but you can’t really know what it feels like until you actually feel it. There is no preparing for that feeling believe me. And it doesn’t get easier with time, it just stays there, with you, destroying you bit by bit from the inside out.

I don’t know how long the trip was, could have been minutes, hours, even days. It didn’t really matter. After getting out of the plane we walked for a few moments until we found a house. We got in. The people that were there were really nice, they fed and dressed us. The last thing I remember about that day was a woman kissing me goodnight “Everything is going to be okay dear” and then there was just darkness. I was really scared and lonely, yet so tired that I couldn’t think straight about anything. I closed my eyes and fell asleep without any strength left, and the image of my parents in my head.

Later I discovered that we were in Italy. We stayed at the camp for about 5 months until they moved us into the Adoption System. Because we were two girls without their parents they thought that it would be better for us to live in a home, with a family and the love and affection that come with one. It didn’t takek long for us to be adopted, I really don’t know why a family adopted us so quickly, maybe our new parents thought that we had been through enough. And I thank them every day, for giving me the life that I have now. I am not gonna lie, it was hard to adapt. The first month was the hardest. Everyone at school looked at me like I was some kind of animal in a zoo, they looked but didn’t approch me, afraid that I would bite.

It was harder for me than it was for Zahra… Kids don’t really know anything about what is happening or the problems that exist in the adult society, and even if they did they wouldn’t treat anyone differently, just because they are different. No, that is something that you get when you grow up in our society. Teenagers can be ruthless. Everywhere I went there were eyes on me. And the jokes. God the jokes. There were some that were not funny and there were the ones that were just awful, but they all included guns, death and bombs, I wonder why.

But in the middle of all that teenage evil there was a girl that actually came to me, she didn’t just looked at me and pretended that she didn’t see me or that she didn’t know me, she actually came and talked to me. But could she be dumber? She asked me “Aren’t you thankful that your country is at war? Because of that you got to come here!” I looked at her amazed by her stupidity. Does everyone really think that being attacked, not knowing if you are going to live or not, saying goodbye to your parents, is a blessing? No little girl, I am not thankful for the war and all the pain that it caused to everyone that was hurt by the crossfire, no I am not thankful for the war because I will probably never see my parents again, no I am not thankful for the war because everything that I knew, my home, was completely destroyed, no I am not thankful for the war because it took my life. At that moment I realised how alone I really was. Eventhough everyone knew my story they really didn’t know anything. They had no idea what it was like to be me, to go through what I had been through. I wasn’t just lonely, I was completely alone.

But eventually I found someone. A boy that lived in my neighbourhood, Daniel. He was sweet and caring, and amazingly he never said anything stupid or that hurt my feelings. I felt safe when I was with him, and we could talk about anything. After him I finally started to feel at home. I remember being asked what I was thankful for, after I arrived to a little town in the northeast of Italy.

I didn’t really know how to answer that question back then because I was so angry at the world, at God, for the path that I had to travel through, but I do now: I am thankful for everything that this country has done for me, saved me and has helped me grow into the woman I now am. I am thankful for my life, for everything that I had and didn’t have, for every opportunity that was thrown in my path and for everything that I fought to have. I am thankful for the two families that I have, the one back in Syria and the one here. And most of all I am thankful for the people that I have in my life.

I don’t know where my parents and friends are, yet, if they are alive or not, but I am so thankful for them, for turning a child into the girl that I was, and I am thankful for the people in Italy that turned that girl into the woman that I am.

I realised two very important things the other day: I wouldn’t be the person that I am today if I hadn’t met everyone that I did in my life and that home isn’t a place, home is actually the people that you love and love you and care for you. That is why I am thankful for everyone, because they are the reason that I am who I am.

And, after all these years I finally feel at home, because I realised that home is where any of these people are, and there really is no place like home.

Created By
Clara Abegão

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