Naif and Fahtma

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80 years is a long time. It is a lifetime of application, sustained growth and development, of yourself and that which is around you.

Imagine, then, in one quick moment, having to leave all that behind?

I want to share the story of Naif and Fahtma with you. Naif is 80 years old, and his wife Fahtma is 65. They have both lived in the same village, the size of around 100 families near Aleppo, for their entire lives. They owned about 20 sheep in this village, with whom Naif spent time in the countryside everyday, and harvested olives for a nearby factory.

This was true until about 5 months ago.

Barrel bombs landed on their village. One landed in between their house and the house of Fahtma’s brother. Luckily they were not home. However, the damage caused to their livelihoods was devastating: two of Fahtma’s nephews died and all 20 sheep died. Their house destroyed, their village in ruin. Fahtma saw a pregnant woman, two weeks from birth, lying dead in the street.

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In that moment, they had no choice but to leave everything behind. Their home of 80 and 65 years respectively. With no sheep, and no house, they could not continue their life as before. In the cold of winter, they left with just the clothes on their back and a small amount of money in their pocket; all other possessions discarded as well as 20 bags of freshly harvested olives, and the income that could have brought, gone to waste.

In escaping, “you walk one way, thinking it is safe, then you see a bomb ahead, so you have to quickly change your way.”

They made their way to their border at Al-rai in northern Syria, with several other families. In trying to cross the first time, Naif and Fahtma were driven back by the Turkish border patrol – in the process, a 16-year-old girl and her father were shot and killed. The devastation continued.

For one month, Naif and Fahtma stayed at the border – with only a tree for cover, the winter weather, including snow, bore down upon them. At all times, they simply longed for the simplicities of their old life, in their old village with their old sheep, where Naif could spend his days wandering the countryside.

However, they pushed onwards, finally managing to cross the border unseen. For three days, they trekked through a mountain region in Turkey, in a group of 10 men and 3 women. Progress was slow: Fahtma said she would walk a bit, then fall down because she was so tired. She said that she thought that she would die on those mountains.

Desperate and lost, they came across a group of Turks who demanded money from them in return for a lift to Gaziantep in Southern Turkey. The Turks also
threatened to inform the police of their illegal crossing if they didn’t comply. Naif, Fahtma and those they were travelling with were forced to give everything they had, which amounted to 800TL (about £187). Despairingly, the promise of a lift to Gaziantep was dishonest, and they were abandoned, more desperate and lost than before.

Thankfully, Naif and Fahtma, along with their group, came across a Syrian man as they finally neared Gaziantep. They were fed and, from there, were able to organise transport to make their way all the way up to Izmir, where I met them as part of ReVi’s daily visits in the city.

I continue to be utterly humbled by the courage of these people that have had their entire livelihoods dismantled. Naif and Fahtma are extraordinarily warm-hearted and welcoming, dearly thankful every time we visit them. They live with their daughter’s family in Izmir, all in a small room with an adjoining kitchen and bathroom, while another daughter still lives in Syria with her family, and their two sons and their families live elsewhere in Turkey, barely getting by themselves. They have 19 grandchildren.

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Naif and Fahtma waved away our commiserations on their story. They said that, compared to most people, their trip was easy. Bombed from their home, having lived there for a lifetime, livestock and family members killed, a month sleeping outside in the cold on the border, treks and exploitation in the mountains and no future to speak of in Izmir. This has become normalised to the extent that it is an ‘easy trip’. Imagine what other people must be going through?

Naif steps out the house daily to go for his walks. He’s used to open countryside, fresh air, early mornings, the sheep at his side. Now, with poor eyesight, he has to walk through the steep, dense, noisy streets of Basmane in Izmir. Fahtma says she often doesn’t want him to go: “it’s dangerous, because he can’t see well.” With everything they’ve been forced to go through, danger has taken on a new meaning.

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The Universal Language

Football. It’s a universal language. It has the power to transcend borders and break down barriers. It connects people from all over the world, uniting them in their love for the game.

Last week, Dan and Sim worked with Refugee Volunteers of Izmir (ReVi) to organise two football sessions for the refugees in Izmir. The first brought together kids from one of ReVi’s education centres in an afternoon of games and laughter. They were all little bundles of energy, playing and having fun and, of course, running Dan and Sim into the ground!

Seeing the smiling faces of these children, all playing together and enjoying themselves, was so beautiful. It’s how kids should be!

The mothers came to pick them up when the games were done, equally as happy to see their kids still animatedly bouncing down the street, in need a good night’s rest after such exertions!

This all is exactly why simple projects like this football session are so important. These kids have been through so much, childhoods interrupted by war, and all of the awful things that come with it.

But by running projects like this, ReVi are creating an environment where children can be children, and that is so, so valuable.

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Cekdar’s Grandmother

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A few days ago, we were revisiting some of the new Syrian families we had met to give them supplies; olive oil, food vouchers. Not much but some things to help them over the next few days.

We navigated our way through the meandering streets of Izmir, and when we finally reached our destination, we came across a few families outside, enjoying the sun and watching the children play.

An amazing old lady approached us and we got chatting. She was sitting outside with her daughter and we spent some time with them, taking photos together, before we continued into the Syrian family’s home.

When I got home that night, I posted a picture with the old lady outside the house, and what happened next totally blew me away…

Cekdar, a dear friend of mine and a resident at Pikpa camp in Lesvos, commented on the picture. He said that the lady in the picture was his grandmother!

I didn’t believe him.

The next day we went back to the area to see if it was indeed his grandmother, and mother, that we had met. He spoke about them often while working at the camp. I approached them both and showed them a picture of their boy. They were shocked.

I explained that I had been working at Pikpa for quite a while and that Cekdar had become a good friend to me, a brother. We used to play football together with the other residents of the camp, and he had been working in the kitchen, helping to feed other vulnerable people there. He even helped us through some desperate times on the beaches as a translator.

Cekdar’s grandmother took my phone from me and started kissing the picture of her grandson, her eyes welling up, smiling and laughing. They speak often through the WiFi* at Pikpa, but hearing stories about Cekdar first-hand from me, and knowing what a great young man they have raised, filled them with joy.

They hugged and kissed us as though we were their own.

It was a totally surreal experience. I would never have imagined meeting Cekdar’s mother and grandmother, across the ocean, in a city of 4 million people, while walking through one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods.

Thank you, Dan Teuma, for sharing this beautiful, moving story.

*The WiFi network at Pikpa was installed by Nethope, and we were able to boost the coverage for all of the residents to have access. To know that this has allowed Cekdar to keep in touch with his mother and grandmother is just incredible. THANK YOU, for supporting us, our work and this project. You have helped to create a lifeline.

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They Hold Nothing But Give Everything

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There are certain moments when, through the whole scope and situation of the larger humanitarian crisis, you can’t help but live in the present with the simple joy of making and building human relationships across supposed divides.

We can learn a lot from those that are said to be different.

There is nothing more illuminating than the respectful sharing of cultures. Though everything has been forcibly taken away from them, the Syrian families that make up the refugee population of Izmir continue to hold an incredible resilience and the most amazing hospitable nature.

Each week, on a Sunday, Refugee Volunteers of Izmir (ReVi) invites 2 or 3 Syrian families to cook a big dinner for volunteers. The volunteers fund the dinners and extra cooking stoves are provided for each of the families.

This falls right in line with ReVi’s philosophy of creating a community environment within which fleeing families can look to rebuild their lives and gain some semblance of normality.

I joined one of the families earlier in the day before the latest Sunday dinner, as they invited a few of us to help cook the last few dishes of the meal. This didn’t constitute much – we prepared the side salads while playing with the kids, keeping the baby boy smiling and using the best of our sign language to communicate with the family members.

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Once the other volunteers arrived, settling down cross-legged on cushions lining the walls in their small, humble home, they filled the middle of the room with an astonishing array of traditional Syrian dishes. We shared everything, dipping and reaching across each other as the conversation flowed amongst, above all, human beings.

By the time we all ate to heart’s content, there still seemed to be enough to feed the rest of the neighbourhood. Once again, we were blown away by the genuinely open and welcoming nature of people who have had their entire lives turned upside down. They hold nothing but give everything.

This was about more than a dinner party: it was about creating connections, building relationships, crossing divides and displaying a love and unity that is so often missing in our daily interactions, wherever we may be.

As we walked away from the house at the end of the evening, while the kids chased us down for one last hug, the resilience and hospitable nature of these families shone through once again. It is humbling to work with such people on a daily basis.

We can learn a lot from those that are said to be different.

Thank you to Tribe member Sim for sharing this beautiful story.

A big shout out to Nooshtube for featuring this beautiful story. Thank you! To learn more about creating a community through food, culture and memories, check out the Nooshtube website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!

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Why Turkey is not a ‘Safe’ Country for Refugees

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Me and Nils are in Istanbul to understand the needs of the refugees living in this beautiful city and to know where to channel our resources.

This is what we’ve learnt about life for Syrians in Istanbul so far:

Many Turkish people don’t want to rent to Syrians, and when they do, they charge a lot more money. This, combined with the fact that it is very difficult for them to find work, puts people in an impossible position…

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Yes, it has recently been made legal for Syrian refugees to work in Turkey, but the process of getting these papers involves going back to Syria and seems to be pretty ridiculous. This means many people are forced to work unofficially, cash in hand, often in textile workshops (in the particular neighbourhood we are working in). These textile workshops pay a Syrian man less than a Turkish man, a Syrian woman gets even less, and the children earn even less (about 40 dollars per week). As you can imagine, for this reason, no one employs the fathers but exploit the women and children (who as a result don’t attend school, instead working to feed their families).

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We were told that the police don’t have the physical man power to competently do anything about this so turn a blind eye, and as the government DO issue Syrians with permits to stay in Turkey, but make work permits so difficult to obtain, they know full well what is happening too.

People dream of Europe, but they know the journey is becoming increasingly impossible, so they do their best to stay, to integrate, to learn Turkish, and to regain a level of normality, of the life they left behind.

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Today we visited a Syrian family to deliver them a fridge. Nils carried it up a dark staircase and into their tiny flat where they live with 7 people. They were over the moon and of course, insisted we sit and have coffee.

They spoke no English so me and Nils listed off the few Arabic words and phrases in our repertoire and they laughed and smiled at us with pain behind their eyes.

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They are doing their best. But just imagine everyone in England had to leave due to war, your friends, family, neighbours, everyone you know… How long would you last in a new country, with no job, no knowledge of the language and high rent to pay? How long would your savings sustain you? How long would you survive before you are forced to make decisions which slowly strip away the dignity of you and your family…begging on the street, sending your children to work, or risking your life crossing the sea in a rubber dingy…

It’s easy to have an opinion about refugees and this crisis when we hear the facts and figures, but always bring it back to how would YOU feel. How would YOU want a country to react to YOU and YOUR family, and the answers soon become clear…

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We Are From Syria, Can You Help Us?

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Imagine having no choice but to leave behind your well paid job, your spacious house and your nice car, in fear of your life.

Imagine moving to a neighbouring country (with no choice in the matter), and realising that not only have you left behind everything you ever owned or worked for, you also left behind your dignity.

Imagine being forced to take your son onto the streets all day and all night to beg for food and money so you can buy nappies for your baby.

Imagine watching him extend his open hand out to passers by and gesturing to his mouth, telling them he is hungry, instead of sending him off to school with a packed lunch.

Imagine clutching your passport as proof that this is beyond your control, that this is not your fault, that you are a victim of someone else’s choices, a symbol of the pure injustice of it all.

Look at this picture. He doesn’t need to imagine…

Me and Nils are in Istanbul, and this is a reality for not only this father and son that we met, but for thousands and thousands more just like them…

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ReVi

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As you guys might know by now, Dan and Sim have been in Izmir, Turkey for the past week, and really, that’s thanks to you and your incredible generosity! We asked you to work your amazing magic and help get Sim to Izmir, and that you did! Your donations have made it possible for Sim to spend 4 weeks on-the-ground with Dan, and you were actually so generous that he raised EXTRA money, which will now be spent on the immediate needs of the refugees they meet.

Their first week has already been hugely productive. They’ve been working closely with an established organisation called ReVi (Refugee Volunteers of Izmir), and it’s been an incredibly insightful experience.

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ReVi really embody the kind of work that we’re all about at The Worldwide Tribe. What they do is personal, full of love and compassion, and aims to provide long-term solutions for the refugees in their area – right up our street!

ReVi is a group of independent volunteers that work with Syrian families who, for the foreseeable future, plan to stay in Izmir, families who are already set-up in homes. ReVi’s focus is to provide long-term, sustainable solutions that help these families build lives for themselves.

Currently ReVi work with over 200 families in the area, with more added every week. Each time a new family is added, ReVi have the most fantastic welcome process. A small team visit each family with a translator on this initial meeting, where they take the time to get to know the family and collect their information. Shortly after they check-in again, assisting with any immediate needs like providing them with a gift card to buy food.

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Then, the family are officially part of the ReVi community!

What’s even better about ReVi is that they really feed off the interests and skills of the people that they work with, as well as their needs. They have set up two schools and are planning a third, for which they employ teachers from their family database, and the translators they use are from the regions affected.

They run weekly activities like picnics in the park, arts and crafts, knitting and sewing, and they even sell the products that are made in these groups! One of our favourite things that ReVi organises is their big weekly dinner. Each week, three refugee families are paid to cook a big dinner for the volunteers and the food is amazing! All of the recipes are going to be put together in a cookbook – how great is that?

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What ReVi are really creating here is this amazing, strong sense of community. They build relationships and trust with all of the families that they work with, address their urgent needs and ensure that they have a strong support system within which they can try to build a life.

Dan and Sim have joined the ReVi team on the ground, visiting families, building relationships and really getting a feel for their work and the city. For the next 3 weeks, they will be looking to learn from the amazing, inspiring team at ReVi and see the impact that they can have.

Again, thank you SO much for you huge, incredible generosity. Your donations have enabled Dan and Sim to quickly assess and contribute towards short-term, urgent needs of families as well as the long-term, sustainable solutions of ReVi!

You can find out more about ReVi and donate straight to their cause here.

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The Day I Met Danyal

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I was sitting on the hillside under some trees, looking out over the whole city of Izmir. The incredible view brought back memories of the views in the Favelas in Rio. Rooftops intertwined with the minarets of the mosques. It was around 29 degrees, sun was beating down, the children were flying kites while the mothers prepared the picnic. So much happiness and joy.

I had decided to go and sit on my own for a bit to take it all in…I wanted to be present, in the moment. I wanted to feel the sun and hear the children laugh and play.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw 4 men and a young boy walking through the grass carrying a beautiful instrument. They sat down and the boy began tuning it.
Moments later he began to sing..

I was instantly drawn to his beautiful, mysterious voice. I walked over and pointed to the ground, asking, without words, whether i could sit down with them. It was a silly question really as I should have learnt by now that when you are in the company of Syrians, they consistently demonstrate the most incredible hospitality and always invite you to join them!

After the boy had played 3 or 4 songs and I had sat listening in awe, his father gestured to me, asking if i wanted to film him on my phone. I positioned myself in front of him and he began to play.

I could really see the passion, the pain but also the love in his eyes. His message came from the depths of his stomach..originating from those deep rooted experiences he had lived through at such a tender age.

After he finished we began chatting. I asked him his name, for which he replied ‘Danyal’….I was like, ‘no way…my name is Daniel!’ and we all laughed.

The adults spoke no English and I most certainly have not yet become proficient in Arabic, but we communicated as best as we could and somehow still understood each other well.

A little later another of the volunteers who is also from Syria walked by, and I asked him to join us so he could translate, and Danyals family were able to tell me thier story…

Danyals father explained to me that the rest of his family were in Berlin and that he hoped to be reunited with them once more. He didn’t know how they would make it over but the hope was there. ‘Inshallah’ we said to each other.

Danyal is 14 years old and his English, although not great, was significantly better than the rest.

There was another man sitting there who wanted to tell me of his journey and his experiences. He told me that while fleeing Syria due to the bombings of his home town, that he told his two sons to go on ahead without him. In his words he told them:

“My sons…please go to the sea…and if you make it, you will have your freedom”

His eyes filled with tears as he spoke but he managed to hold it back well enough to maintain the conversation. It wasn’t clear to him whether it was government forces or rebel forces responsible for the bombings, all he knew is that they needed to flee.

You could feel his desperation and he continued to share his situation… He also explained that every month his rent is increased, making his situation in Turkey unbearable in as his funds rapidly dry up.

As the sun was setting and it was time for me to leave after the most amazing day, I apologised for interrupting their day out with little Danyal and their moments enjoying the music together.

Danyal’s father turned to me and smiled, “please do not apologise, we are all brothers and sisters here.’ I smiled back.

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