Childhood Interrupted — A photo-essay by Syrian children
Life for Syrian refugees in Turkey is especially hard for children. Forced to leave their homes, interrupt their studies and adapt to difficult conditions of instability and vulnerability in a foreign country, Syrian children are forced to grow up too quickly.
Children as young as twelve work twelve hours a day, six days a week, to earn a salary far below the Turkish minimum wage, needed to help their families make ends meet.
“I work on a sewing machine for ten and a half hours a day, six days a week. My mother was a teacher in Syria and I was a very hard-working student. I really miss school but now I have to work. My father is in Germany, my family is still waiting to be able to join him. When I get there I hope to continue my studies. I want to be a doctor.”
- Ahmed, 14 years old
According to Unicef, more than half of Turkey’s 2.7 million registered Syrian refugees are children, and only about 20% of them attend formal school.
Even though the Turkish government granted Syrian children access to public schools, language barriers, economic hardship and lack of information and social integration prevent children from accessing the education they are entitled to.
“My life here is not beautiful. The Turkish language is hard and I can’t learn it. I can’t learn in school. We are Syrian and [Turkish people] try to make me feel ashamed. They want me to feel embarrassed because I’m from Syria. But I’m not embarrassed. Never! I am proud to be Syrian. So many Turkish children give us a hard time. When they see a Syrian they shout bad words. That makes me feel angry. I don’t want to stay here. My only dream is to come back home. I don’t want anything else.”
- Aisha, 10 years old
Many children are unable to attend school because they do not speak Turkish, or because they face social integration difficulties. To address this issue, Revi, a group of international and local volunteers in Izmir, opened three small schools for over 100 children in Izmir, hiring Syrian teachers from the community, and providing Turkish, English and art classes.
In the summer of 2016, Revi organised a photography workshop for Syrian children living in the Basmane neighbourhood of Izmir, where most Syrian refugees live in difficult conditions. Several children were handed disposable cameras, and asked to photograph their surroundings.
The results were surprising: a touching, unique look on the Syrian neighbourhood of Izmir with its ruins and decrepit houses, but also its colourful markets selling products from Aleppo, an unexpected cotton candy seller in its alleys, and even a ray of light.
“There was killing, blood, violence right in front of me. Everything was so difficult. In the beginning I was afraid of everything, but what I saw gave me strength. I have a lot of faith in Syria. I think it will go back to like it was before the war. Just like with me, the terrible things that Syria has witnessed will make it stronger.”
- Aisha, 10 years old
“I was studying in Syria. I wanted to keep going to school but because of the war, I couldn’t. I study here but I’m not happy. I don’t want to see children without education, or crying. I want to see everybody happy. Enough war. I don’t want to see people carrying weapons. I just want to plant love and flowers.”
- Nadia, 10 years old
“My job is to sew. Most of the Syrians who are living in Turkey work in this field. In Turkey most of our time is spent working, It’s unfulfilling but I have to do it. I am alone here, my family is still in Syria. I talk to them once a month. I really miss my family…”
- Mahmoud, 15 years old
All photos were taken by Syrian children living in Izmir, Turkey