var _gaq = _gaq || []; _gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'UA-41362908-1']); _gaq.push(['_trackPageview']); (function() { var ga = document.createElement('script'); ga.type = 'text/javascript'; ga.async = true; ga.src = ('https:' == document.location.protocol ? 'https://' : 'http://') + 'stats.g.doubleclick.net/dc.js'; var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s); })();
Home / Latest News / Welsh aid worker tells of the horrors and everyday heartache facing Syria conflict refugees

Welsh aid worker tells of the horrors and everyday heartache facing Syria conflict refugees

Doctor Sameh Otri will return to the Syrian border next week to take aid and education to children affected by the ongoing conflict.

The university chaplain will be part of a small group of professionals flying out to the Turkish border on Monday.

Two years on from when the conflict started, hundreds of thousands of Syrian people are now thought to have fled to Turkey.

The group will spend three weeks at the border visiting hospitals, schools and camps.

They will take art and educational materials, ambulances and medical supplies with them and will work with children, teachers and parents.

Dr Otri, helped set up the group Wales Solidarity for Syria (WSS) which organises fundraising events to raise the money for much-needed supplies.

The 40-year-old, who has lived in Cardiff for more than 10 years, said each ambulance costs around £5,000 and the medical bags around £35 each.

These funds have been raised through dinners, lectures and talks including a 20-mile walk on the coast of Swansea which raised around £5,000.

WSS has also sent out seven convoys, including materials and fully-equipped ambulances, to Syria since the conflict started.

Dr Otri said this is because most of the ambulances the regime once had have now been destroyed.

This will be his third visit to the area since the conflict began in 2011.

His first trip was in October when a team of 17 people drove the donated ambulances from Cardiff to the Turkish border.

The group visited Atma camp – a large camp of around 13,000 Syrian refugees.

“There’s not much help there, only charities go there,” he said. “You see children in the street, the toilet system is outside and there’s no electricity after 5pm. It was really sad, I couldn’t believe it was Syria, it was like somewhere outside of the world.”

The group also visited a rehabilitation hospital in Turkey near the border and tried to get patients, doctors and staff involved in group activities.

Dr Otri said: “It was just to bring smiles and happiness to people who have not had a good time since leaving the country.

“There was one boy called Malik who had lost one of his legs. When he came he said ‘I’m not good at art’ but when he saw the children drawing he came over. He lost all his family in Syria and drew hearts for every member of his family.”

Dr Otri flew out to Syria again in December for around 10 days.

They visited Assalam School, which teaches 150 children, and spent time with each class using the materials donated in the UK as well as singing and storytelling.

Dr Otri said: “We introduced ourselves and said that people in the UK send their regards to you. It’s easy for someone in that stress and war to think where is everybody? Why is nobody helping us? Sometimes they have hate in their hearts, feeling let down and left alone to struggle. We try to say we are normal people and we’re here to help you.”

He added: “When we gave the children a blank piece of paper and asked them to draw something they would draw a tank or people fighting. We would say why did you draw this and they spoke about their experience of being in Syria. It became a platform for discussion with the children.”

The group also trained people to act as volunteers so they could continue to go into the school and do the workshops after they left.

“At a time of war sometimes you think of yourself but it’s about sharing and giving what you can to others,” he said.

They also worked with teachers and tried to look at different ways of teaching. “I was talking about new methods of teaching, not to hit or shout at the children which may have been their only way of dealing with them.”

He also pointed to large problems with a lack of clothes and food.

“The Turkish Government sometimes say they can’t cope with any more and say its camps are full,” he said. “So there are families that go inside Turkey but they have no money to rent and its very expensive. You can survive one month or two months but this has been like this for two years now. So people are really struggling and they can’t speak the language as well.”

Dr Otri, who left Syria at the age of 27 to study engineering at Cardiff University, still had family living in Syria until recently.

Two of his sisters now live in Turkey, his Dad and one sister are in Egypt and one of his brothers is in Lebanon.

“My niece and two sisters in Turkey haven’t found a job, they say there’s no way because they can’t speak the language,” he said.

“When I went to Turkey my two sisters were still inside Syria, I was only 100 miles away but I couldn’t go over the border. It was really hard, I hadn’t been to Syria for five years.”

People didn’t leave Syria until the last possible minute, he said.

“When my sister called me it was five months ago. She said we need to leave the country now, that there was an explosion outside her house and that three buildings had already collapsed. You just have to run.

“You can’t take a bag with you or furniture, you just run away. Normally, Syrian people don’t have any savings they just live day to day. But saving their life is the most important thing so they just run away.”

He added: “Some of them are really educated people.  My niece has a Masters in English literature, my sister in psychology and my uncle is an engineer. But they are doing nothing, just sitting and waiting until things become better in Syria.”

Dr Otri has joined the Union of the Syrian Academics which discusses how it can help Syrian students.

He said: “University students said they have no proof that they have been to university, no certificates because they just had to run away.

“Even those who are about to finish it’s useless, all the four or five years they spent there, they are not able to carry on.”

He said the Union of the Syrian Academics has discussed the idea of perhaps setting up a private university, how to run exams and provide training, and certificates and are also looking at the idea of distance learning online.

And he hopes the UK universities can help through sponsorship or passing on knowledge.

Dr Otri, who lives with his wife and four young children, now works as the Muslim Chaplain for Cardiff University.

He and his family intend to return to Syria in 2011.

But he said: “My family said don’t come, stay where you are, we’re all leaving soon.

The revolution had started in a few cities.

“I don’t think I can go back now at this time, I’d be targeted and killed.  They would look at you as being against them because of the work we’ve been doing.”

He added: “Whenever I hug my children I really remember all these children who are suffering. Syrian children are like any other children and we should not forget them.

“We are lucky here to live in a safe place, kids have toys and can do what they like. We can have everything we want to eat and we are not struggling.  But their daily routine is struggling every day to live.”

Anyone who can donate items, materials or money to help those in Syria can contact the WSS on www.facebook.com/welshsolidarityforsyria

ENDS

Check Also

Pedestrian hit by vehicle on Castle Street in Cardiff

A pedestrian has been hit by a vehicle on a busy Cardiff street. South Wales …