Chinese student shares her experiences helping Syrian refugee children

By Fan Yueying Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/16 17:23:39


Syrian refugee children pose for a photo at a refugee community in Beirut, Lebanon. Photo: Courtesy of Fan Yueying

A Syrian refugee child shows off her painting at a charity event in Amman, Jordan. Photo: Courtesy of Fan Yueying


A law student at Peking University, I started working to help Syrian refugee children in 2016 by organizing painting exhibitions featuring art from these children and forums on the Syrian refugee crisis in several cities around China. Through these public events, I have tried to raise people's awareness about what they can do to help make a difference in the lives of refugee children.

This summer, I went to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and the Syrian borders with these countries to research the Syrian refugee crisis. During this time, I met with representatives from the UN and other international organizations and visited refugee camps and refugee communities. I also volunteered at orphanages in Turkey's Hatay and Gaziantep provinces.

Generosity and humanity

"Why are you doing this?"

This is a question that I was asked often. The only way I can think to answer this is by sharing some of the things I saw and experienced during my time in the Middle East.

When I went to the refugee camps in Bekaa, Lebanon, I met a young girl with blue eyes and curly blonde hair. Her beauty contrasted strongly with her dilapidated surroundings.

"What happened in Syria wiped out our hope. We were scattered like birds. I want to return to Aleppo," she told me.

In Beirut, Lebanon, I met a disabled Syrian boy selling red roses near the sea.

"Could you buy a rose?" he asked as he followed behind me. When I took a rose from his hand, the sea breeze brought to me the sound of happy children playing in the distance and the joyful voices of people celebrating a wedding. The little boy told me that when he was in Damascus, he would have to dodge sniper fire on the way to school and that he was injured when caught in the blast of a military bombardment.

The boy's family crossed the border into Lebanon so they could find a place to live in peace, but instead were faced with a life of grueling hardship. They had no choice but to join the biggest population of refugees in the world. Lebanon is a small country of around 6 million people. Of these, there are more than 1 million Syrian refugees. There's not a town, a city or a village, that is not host to a Syrian refugee. This showing of generosity and humanity is truly remarkable.

Preparing for the future

While picking up my luggage at the Istanbul Airport, I heard the sound of piano music drifting through the air. The tune immediately brought to mind images of a camel caravan traveling through the desert. Seeking the source of this magical sound, I saw a young man nearby concentrating on playing the piano.

"Bravo!" I said as I clapped my hands together.

"Thank you! This is a traditional Syrian song!" he replied.

As we talked for a little bit more, I learned that he had studied music in Damascus and was on his way to establishing himself as a musician, but is now struggling to make a living by performing at the airport.

In north Jordan, near the Zattari refugee camp, we visited several refugee families. Temporary simple rooms and tents had been built in the desert. Outside of them, I saw children were frolicking in the dust. As I handed out food, clothing and learning materials to the children, one little boy wearing a yellow shirt that said "Hear peace, see peace, say peace" refused to accept the study materials.

"I haven't been in school for three years," he said as he shrugged, helpless.

I didn't know how to respond, but on the inside I was crying. I suddenly remembered a little girl with glasses I had met in the Mafraq refugee camp not to long before.

"I want to get education and be a good teacher in the future!" she told me, her eyes full of longing.

I think about what they have fled: destroyed buildings, industries, schools, roads and homes.

These will need to be rebuilt by architects, engineers and electricians. Communities will need teachers and lawyers and politicians interested in reconciliation and not revenge.

It is my hope that through education, these children will one day grow to become the people needed to rebuild what was once lost. 

Sadly, they will have plenty of time to prepare for this day.

I used to think of being a refugee as a temporary state. But it turns out I was far from right. Research shows that refugees spend 17 years on average in exile.

Empathy and altruism

Refugees have a difficult time. They come to wherever they are from faraway parts of the world. They have experienced trauma. They're often of a different religion.

These are the reasons why we should be helping refugees, even though there are some who cite these as reasons not to provide them aid and comfort.

We should also help them because of what it says about us. It reveals our values.

Empathy and altruism are two of the foundations of civilization. By turning that empathy and altruism into action, we end up living out up to a basic moral credo.

Despite our differences, we are all human beings.

When it comes to Syrian refugee children and their right to an education, young Chinese need to do more.

As for me, I will definitely continue devoting myself to helping them and trying to get the world to hear the voice of younger Chinese generations. As the famous Arabic saying goes: "Since we all came from dust, why can't we grow roses together? "

The author is a sophomore at the Law School of Peking University and co-founder of the Common Future Fund, a project jointly launched by the Chinese Initiative on International Law and the China Teenager and Children Foundation that focuses on providing volunteer services to Syrian refugees.

Newspaper headline: Roses from the dust

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