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A 14 year old Derby schoolgirl from Normanton swapped home comforts over half-term to help run a children’s holiday club for Syrian refugees over 2,000 miles away in Kurdistan.
Kezia Martin, a Year 10 student at Ockbrook School traveled to Arbat UNHCR refugee camp, in the city of Suleimaniyah, Kurdistan, as part of a group from Community Church, Derby. The group, which included Kezia’s father, ran a holiday club for 418 Syrian children in the refugee camps school, involving sport, games, stories and art activities.
Around 2000 people live in the refugee camp, accommodated in small, basic tents often consisting of only two small rooms. The holiday club for 418 children, who were registered in the camp’s school. Many more children who were not registered also got involved.
Reflecting on her trip, Kezia says: “It was an amazing experience. We had 418 children who were registered in the camp’s school and who attended the club. But our numbers we swelled by lots of other children who weren’t registered at the school so we must have had more than 500 children!
“During one activity we asked the children to draw or paint a memory from Syria. One particular little boy drew an image of a Kurdish man and an Arabic man holding hands after peace had returned to Syria. I was so moved by his picture and story.
“I found the whole experience incredibly humbling and was grateful for the chance to hear the children’s stories and make just a small difference in their incredibly difficult lives. We packed so much into our week – meeting Kurdish families, visiting museums – that it felt like we fitted three week’s worth of experiences into just seven days!”
Kezia’s Kurdish connection extends back home to Derby. She volunteers at Upbeat Communities, a grassroots social enterprise established in 2005 to improve the lives of newly arrived people in Derby and the well being of the local community. Kezia continues: “I loved the Kurdish people who I’ve met here in Derby, as well as their culture, and I’ve always wanted to visit their home country and meet their relatives. My parents went on a previous visit to Kurdistan in October where they met the people in the refugee camp. I was inspired by their stories and was very excited to get involved with the trip.
“But I also really wanted to experience new cultures, learn new skills and broaden my world knowledge. I learnt so much about the people and history of Kurdistan while I was there and really got to know the daughters of our host, who taught me how to read and write in Kurdish! We were all made to feel incredibly welcome.
“Another project that has been started in the camp is a launderette project, that will save women from having to go out in the winter and spend hours washing clothes by hand in cold water. We will be raising money for this in Derby and any donations will be a great help.”
The conflict in Syria has forced 2.2 million people to leave the country, with more than 200,000 fleeing to Iraq. Throughout 2013, UNICEF and partners in Iraq provided Syrian children and their families with access to clean water and vaccinated five million Syrian and other children against polio.