A Letter from Lenya: January 2016
Dear Soldier of Love,
“I want the life I had back” is written in Arabic on the arm of a female Syrian refugee named Huda, who now lives in Jordan.
She made her way across the Syrian Desert, seeking asylum in Mafraq, a small, dusty community I visited recently. Although this city boasts close proximity to Amman—the modern capital teeming with Starbucks, sky- scrapers, and shopping malls—Mafraq boasts no grand architecture or bustling commerce. It simply reaps the benefit of the nearby international highway that connects Damascus and Riyadh. Like Huda, this humble “city in-between” suffers from low self-esteem.
These days, both face an identity crisis as well. Huda is one of nearly 200,000 refugees who fled to Mafraq, which had a previous population of 120,000. Now, with more of “them” than “us,” the natives feel a bit dis- placed, too.
Huda is not alone. As I drank tea, enjoying Middle Eastern hospitality at a local church, a flock of Syrian women nearly broke down the door as they pled for aid. The pastor who tried to enter from the street listened patiently and then shared the distribution times, along with a word of hope.
I was shocked to discover that over 145,000 Syrian refugee women now run their households alone, according to a report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Women who enjoyed a good reputation in their country of birth now face scorn and marginalization for simply living without a husband. Chided in public, some fear leaving their home. Many fall victim to abuse, but refuse to admit this indignity to others.
Lina, a Syrian refugee, told UNHCR, “When left alone, you have to push boundaries and make things happen. When you are weak, you are done. You have to be strong to defend yourself, your kids and the household.”
I met nearly a dozen of these ladies as they gathered in an upper room to attend a health club offered by local Christians. Dressed in Arab robes and headdresses that revealed just their faces, their expressions spoke volumes. It was evident that an inner dignity kept painful emotions churning below the surface. It felt as though mere eye contact might cause an eruption of hot tears.
“My name is Lenya, and I am from the United States,” I said through the interpreter. “I want you to know that I see you; we see you. We see the tragedy happening to your country and we care. I’ve come to tell you that many of us are praying that God will give you a future and a hope. My organization, Reload Love, longs to com- fort your children.”
As I spoke, the women nodded and responded, “Inshallah,” an Arabic word meaning may it be as God wishes. I asked, “Would any of you feel comfortable telling me your story? Please share something you’d like my fellow Americans to understand.”
Surprisingly, a downcast mother stood, being careful to keep her gaze low. She spoke quietly, explaining that the conflict in her country was beyond politics, terrorists, and factions. The paranoia and suspicion had spread from cities, to neighborhoods, and eventually to individuals. No one could be trusted in the current climate. Children were being kidnapped by neighbors who were desperate for ransom money.
She told us that one day, as her two grade-school-aged sons crossed the street holding hands, a sniper shot one of the boys. “He died immediately,” she explained. “My other son began to nod his head in a jerking motion, stopped speaking, and refused eye contact.”
Seven months after bringing her son to the school sponsored by the church in Mafraq, the child now smiles and recites stories. A boy who once drew pictures of guns now colors flowers.
I traveled to Jordan to meet twenty-nine refugee children whom Reload Love sponsors in various schools. Be- cause children suffering from severe PTSD don’t have the emotional ability to travel far from home, we didn’t want to start a school far away from them. Instead, we placed the children as close as possible to the Christian schools in their own neighborhoods. We also provided a bus, the Love Bus, to transport them back and forth.
Our trip also included scouting out the place for our next project: transforming battlegrounds into playgrounds. Playgrounds? Sounds indulgent during a catastrophe of global proportions. As the Middle East experiences genocide worse than the Rwandan conflict and a refugee crisis that rivals World War II, what good is a play- ground?
Trauma experts have discovered three elements necessary to heal child victims: 1) safety; 2) normalcy; and 3) acknowledgement. A safe place allows kids to feel secure and unwind. Normalcy from things like a school, family, or sports brings familiarity and stability. And finally, as the children open up, our sponsors provide the acknowledgment that these children did not cause or deserve the acts of violence against them.
So, yes, a playground. It is here that kids can just be kids. They learn to cooperate. They work out bottled-up energy. They regain imaginations, allowing them to envision the world as a hopeful, rather than hurtful, place.
If you were a refugee mother like Lina, afraid to walk the street, feeling incredibly isolated and cooped up with traumatized children all day long, wouldn’t a playground be a great place to decompress? There you may make a friend. Perhaps talk to a family member about things to come. And possibly start to build a new community that reaches far into the future. Make a donation today at reloadlove.com or by mailing a check in the enclosed white envelope.
Lenya Heitzig Founder, Reload Love
Interested in joining the Lovement? As the old adage goes – even a little goes a long way. Consider making a one-time, tax-deductible donation to Reload Love, or become a Groundbreaker and partner with us on a monthly basis. Together, we can be the hands and feet of Jesus to the children he loves.