This afternoon, after a full day of community outings and support groups, one of the employees at the center where we host our program pulled us aside and told us about the place she used to live in Syria. She had a normal life back then, she told us. Then, ISIS came and everything changed. She had a normal life in the same way that 7-year-old Hani, who we took on a community outing this morning, had the opportunity to attend a nursery school. She had a normal life just like Huda and Muna, two mothers in our support group, who shared that they used to like to go horseback riding and swimming when they lived in Syria. They had “normal” lives…but the war came and everything changed. They do not have these opportunities anymore.
In a joint parent and sibling support session this afternoon, 7-year-old Masoud shared that he dreams of going on an airplane someday. “If we are ever allowed to travel…” the mothers in the room responded. The mothers reminisced about past travel experiences while the siblings dreamed about where they might like to go someday. For now, they have few options, and with survival at stake, few of those options are options at all.
And yet, feeling welcome in Turkey is a struggle for the families we serve. This morning, on Haya’s community outing, Amal asked a cashier whether she spoke English or Arabic. The cashier continued to speak to her in Turkish until the woman in line behind us spoke up: “Even if you’re Syrian, you must learn Turkish. If you don’t speak Turkish go back to your home country. We don’t want you here anymore.”
(Hani and his mother practice “By My Side” protocol on a coached community outing this morning. Hani’s mother commented that this was the first time she has ever been able to walk beside him in public without holding his hand without having him run away.)
And still, our families wake up every day and do everything in their power to give their children a chance at a better future. They plan their days around their children, finding the time to practice skills with their children with autism, to schedule additional coached community outings so that their children can have chances to be participate in public life, and even take the time to help others when they are in the middle of challenging situations themselves. During Haya’s community outing today, while Haya was throwing a tantrum about an item she wanted in the grocery store, her mother Muna took the time to help a Syrian woman in the grocery store find the product she was looking for. “I really like to help people,” Ali’s mother Huda said this afternoon. “If I have a chance to help someone out in my daily life I will do it.”
With all of the focus that the mothers and siblings in our program place on others, we used today’s support session to get them thinking about themselves and their own talents, strengths and abilities. Enter A Global Voice for Autism’s Got Talent! Round 2! Today, we encouraged the families to think about their own strengths and to perform one of their talents for the group. Lama started out our talent show by showing off her mandala drawings and sharing that these drawings help her relax and de-stress. We later had Huda share pictures of her cooking, had 12-year-old Basma teach the group some Korean words and had 10-year-old Taima sing a Turkish song.
(Masoud introduces his mother, Lama at the talent show by sharing the six strengths he wrote in the roots of the “Strengths Tree” he made for her as part of his support group homework and his mother, Lama shares her mandala drawings with the group as her talent.)
After concluding the individual portion of the talent show, we divided participants into groups and had them perform group talents. We had a dabke line, a group drawing and a leg tapping game among our many talented performances. Our team even performed the “Cups” song for the families at the end.
(The A Global Voice for Autism team performs the “Cups” song during the group portion of today’s talent show.)
(Huda and her daughters Basma (12) and Rahmeh (5) drew a picture together during the group portion of the talent show.)
We then asked the families to reflect on their experiences. “I felt really happy after I shared with others and they responded positively,” Lama said. Huda commented, “This was the first time I’ve ever had the chance to stand up in front of people and talk about things that I like.” We ended the session by asking the participants about talents that they have that they wish they had more opportunities to use and gave all of the participants an assignment to spend 30 minutes this week doing something that they love to do for themselves. “I like to take pictures and keep them all so my phone memory is always full,” Lama said. “I am good at soccer and want to play every day,” Masoud, 7, said. “I used to read, but I stopped after getting married and want to do it again,” Laila said.
(Masoud, 7, demonstrates his soccer skills in the individual talent show.)
“I have a lot of responsibilities that take up all of my time,” Muna commented. “I like to make meals that my children like and do things that make them happy.” That was a theme that resounded in all of our conversations today…thinking about how we can live our lives in ways that make the world better for others, in spite of the circumstances, in spite of the fact that the world can flip upside down and inside out overnight. Because at the end of the day, we are all just trying to be good in this world. What more can we each strive for, really?