Program helps ground children to their own culture

Two adults posing with a young person.
August 05, 2022

For many Syrian children born as refugees outside of their country, the camp is the only reality they know. It is essential for them to develop a connection to their cultural heritage and cultural identity. Through the Cultural Heritage program, Mercy Corps provides a venue for participants to learn, express and participate in creating Syrian cultural heritage. 

Ayah Al Oweir, a 10-year-old Syrian girl, lives in Village 5 of Azraq Camp. Ayah, like the other children who were born as refugees outside of their country, lacks knowledge of the history of her homeland, Syrian customs and traditions, and the most significant historical sites.

At Mercy Corps Center in Azraq Camp, Ayah was playing with the other kids when one of the facilitators first introduced the Cultural Heritage program to them. The following day, Ayah and her mother visited the center to learn more about the activities of the program. The mother stated “After the facilitators introduced me to the Cultural Heritage program, I became even more eager to enroll Ayah in it so that she could learn about Syrian traditions and culture that she was unfamiliar with.”

Through the Cultural Heritage program, Mercy Corps provides a venue for participants to learn, express and participate in creating Syrian cultural heritage. The program includes embroidery, mosaic, traditional storytelling “Hakawati” and building the Syrian house.

“I am very proud of myself for learning how to embroider flowers, make an artistic mosaic bird, draw on sand, and build and decorate an entire Syria-themed house,” Ayah said. “Although I prefer embroidery and sewing the most, I've also learned how to make clay pieces and draw various geometric shapes. I made a clay vase, and it's so lovely that my mother put it in our caravan,” she added.

A young person's hands drawing on paper.
Aya is coloring geometric stars.

It was Ayah's commitment and enthusiasm that helped her shine. According to the Cultural Heritage's facilitator Walaa, Ayah was always the first one to arrive to the class and never missed an opportunity to learn something new or put what she had learned into practice after returning back to her family caravan.

“Embroidery lessons from Miss Walaa  inspired me to share my newfound expertise with my sisters at home; I taught them how to make different types of stitches and I also created a number of pieces that I used as decorations inside our caravan.” Ayah stated. “For my very first embroidery, I embroidered a smiley face on my sister's old t-shirt,” she continued with a smile on her face.

Ayah’s mother confirmed proudly, “At home, Ayah enjoys sewing and embroidery the most after her participation in the program.” She added “I always try to encourage and support her, as I do not prevent her from doing anything, but I always make sure to stay nearby whenever she uses sharp tools.”

An embroidery project on a table.
Ayah's embroidery project.
A young person working on craft projects.
"I'm very proud of myself for learning so much about Syrian customs and traditions that I was previously unaware of!" -Ayah Al Oweir

Ayah’s constant sharing of stories about her experience has impacted her peers at school positively which led them to be the first to enroll in the next cycle.

One day, Ayah joined her friends as a guest at an embroidery session, where she supported the facilitator Wala in teaching the girls how to make different types of stitches. At the time, Walaa described Ayah as a “little facilitator.” “I was so proud to see how much she enjoyed helping the other girls and how happy she was doing it,” she remarked.

For Ayah and many other Syrian refugee children, the Cultural Heritage program has been extremely beneficial, as it was designed to help them build self-esteem, skills, and positive relationships with older family members while also keeping them connected to their cultural heritage and identity. This has enabled them to rebuild social networks and maintain a strong connection to their homeland, which is a source of pride and strength.

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