Leaving the relative luxuries of Australia to go and volunteer with the Kobane Reconstruction Board has brought me a lot of challenges, and more personal growth and development than any monetary rewards could have ever provided. But the greatest challenge that I have faced is the story of the 5 orphaned Ibrahim children: Arjin 11, Ixlas 9, Xabat 4, Rostum 2 and Hamoude just over 1 years old whose parents were killed by Daesh during the 25-26th of June 2015 massacre. When the massacre happened I had just left Kobane 3 days before. I remember waking up in the morning and my heart sinking with shock on hearing the terrible news- feeling shame and guilt for being safe as friends I had just recently met were massacred. Someone I know has lost 11 members of her family. To say that it was devastating, especially as we prepared for a huge conference on rebuilding Kobane scheduled 4 days later on the 1st of July 2015, would be an understatement.
A few months later when I returned to Kobane- for what I thought would be a 1 month stay which turned into 3 months and then 7 months- I never imagined that I would come across the children impacted by the massacre. I never imagined it would lead me to love and adore orphaned children in a city with little support mechanism and capabilities.
The Ibrahim’s were murdered violently in coldblood by Daesh who went house to house killing people. What is striking is that in some homes they killed the entire family, in others only the parents, in others only the children in an effort to cause as much damage and pain. It still remains incomprehensible- this level of violence and hatred in the hearts of men. Even then the massacre was planned, organised and executed with the help of Turkey, with Daesh using the Turkish corridor to enter Kobane with the murderers wearing YPG clothes.
But more than this I want to talk about the children. Arjin has become the surrogate mother of the rest of the children; she has asked Ixlas to help her to raise the other 3 and for this reason both do not go to school- a fact which will change if I have anything to do about this when the new school year starts in autumn here. The first time I visited I asked Arjin what she needed. We walked away and sat in a dank, dark side room, bereft of any furniture, her small hands fluttering nervously like a caged bird in my hands- she told me the little children needed nappies. Later again when I returned I asked her what she needed she whispered in my ear that she had a ‘request’; we went to the same little room where she shyly asked if she asked me for something I would fulfil her request. I said I would do everything in my power to make her request come true. She asked me to enlarge and frame a picture of her dead parents- a picture which she eagerly placed in my hands- a picture which we had to coerce out of the hands of Hamoude and Rostum who were showering the picture with kisses but crumbling the precious image in the process. I asked her if she needed something else and this time she took my hands; i wrapped my hands around her wanting to protect her but at a loss how too. She said she wanted a little inflatable pool for the children to play in as its really hot and it will help them to have some fun; and even before I could warn her she assured me that she will make sure they will not drown and will watch them. This little child- mother, whose hands shamed my own privileged hands with the callouses and a roughness that they should not have; whose eyes carry unspoken, unbearable pain that makes a grown adult ashamed. A little girl-mother whose fierce intelligence never fails to startle me.
A week later we took the children to a picnic where I saw smiles that lifted my heart. There is a photo of Ixlas (in yellow shirt sitting on the green chair) whose smile makes my heart explode with love and happiness. Before I took the picture I teased her endlessly until when I took the picture she had the most radiant, childlike smile on her normally somber and serious face. I will remember that smile until my dying day as one of the greatest achievements of my life. A typical middle child personality I made sure that she sat with me, until on the return trip she fell trustingly asleep in my arms. She reminds me of another little girl, long ago, now grown into a confident woman who wishes to change the world… Today i visited them again with an enlarged picture of their parents; tomorrow I will return with the promise of lots of balloons to help them play. We will inflate the balloons together and fill the room with so many balloons until all you can see is the multicoloured hues creating a rainbow of happiness and laughter and giggles.
In the meantime we are working hard to build a school for the children of martyred people in Kobane. The project is in its first month and there are many challenges. But on knowing these kids we made sure that the project evolved to include a dormitory to include children below the school age so that the children will not be separated – the dormitory will have 100 beds. I worry about how we can find the right people, perhaps nurses, perhaps mothers to run the dormitory; but lacking the mental health expertise and experiences this is going to be a big problem; something which we have to face once we have built the school if we do not lack cement, iron, glass and other building supplies thanks to the embargo from KDP and Turkey. But each challenge will be faced with determination necessary to make sure that these children and too many others like them have some semblance of a future- but not just any future; a future filled with hope, with love, with success, with a sense of family and belonging; a future filled with the knowledge that complete strangers came together to make sure that these children were given a safe foundation to land on after the immense, immeasurable suffering they have experienced…