Shahed – A Friend From Aleppo

More than ever I realized how blessed and lucky I am to have my family with me – always.(Although I still hope that my Filipino family is also always with me.  I miss them a lot)

The first week of January found me and my daughter with a Syrian mother and her 10-year old daughter.  I can say that the first snow of January brought us together.  I remember my daughter asking me to drag her and her sleigh to another direction but I went the other way.  My daughter told me to not go where I was planning to go as apparently “we are not allowed to go there.”  I told her that was not entirely true.

I towed her to the playground of the Syrian refugees camp.  There we saw Mama and her habibi.

Just like that they became friends.   Daughter can speak basic Dutch as she attends school for a few months now while Mama speaks so little English and even fewer Dutch.

My daughter, as always, did not want to say goodbye after that.   For that reason, we agreed to meet the next day, Tuesday, at 1PM on the same spot for them to play.

The next day my daughter was eagerly looking through the window to see if her “friend” was already there.  She was not.  My daughter was so sad.  I decided that we go still to the playground.

When we reached the playground, I saw Mama and daughter waving at us.  With the looks of it, they were also waiting for us to arrive there.

They played.  After almost an hour, both children were cold. They invited us to their apartment.  I was a bit hesitant but my daughter was already ahead of me hand-in-hand with her new found friend.


They accepted us warmly.  Offered me coffee or tea. (I guess they learned that from their Inburgering Class – I had to learn that as well).  I settled for water.

They still made me a cup of coffee.

Shahd and her mother lives in the apartment provided to them by the  Centraal Orgaan opvang Asielzoekers or COA.  They were provided the basics – a kitchenette, a toilet with shower, laundry area and a bedroom with a separate room that serves as their receiving area.  Shahd who now serves as the translator for her mother and male cousin is attending Dutch Primary School.

The male cousin, Ahmed, is living in another area in Maastricht where they placed all young and able male refugees.  The camp around our residence houses families with mothers and children.

I remember the protests done around the apartments by the residents when we received the letter from the Gemeente at the beginning of 2016 that in a few months we will be playing hosts to more than 100 refugees.

And that the decision was final.

Imagine the fear of most of my neighbors.  My husband and I were some of those who just shrugged our shoulders.

Okay.  I mean, we see them on TV, we see them on the news.  We feel sorry for them.  But now that they actually will be placed near us we say no.

Ignorance and lack of knowledge makes people afraid.  Fearful.

My daughter and I went home that Tuesday afternoon feeling grateful and our hearts full.

My daughter did not stop talking about Shahd.  She told her father about her.  She told her Opa and Oma who were so surprised:  “You went inside their apartment?” (with some ….. unspoken questions).

The next day, Shahd and her mother were in our house.  They watched Trolls (that Shahd never saw and enjoyed it a lot) and ate chips and chocolates together.  Shahd’s Mama, as always, talked too little.  Communication barrier.  If she wants to say something and her daughter was busy playing, she uses google to translate from Arabic to English.

On Friday afternoon, I planned to take my daughter to the city.  I knew that Shahd and her mother had plans to go to Emmen to visit their Syrian friends.  Shahd did not want to go, she wanted to see Zoë.

At 2PM, the four of us took the bus to the city.  Zoë and Shahd were having the time of their lives.   Mama was so happy to see her daughter so happy.

That week I learned that they were living in that apartment already since August 2016 along with other families.  Thanaa (the Mama) said that there are so many families living there.  I told her we don’t see a lot.  She said that they are just always inside their apartments as they don’t have jobs and that most of them are afraid to come out.

Only the children are attending school.

They are provided financial allowance by COA every week.  She, along with her youngest daughter and 2 nephews (one who was relocated to a refugee camp in Germany), walked for more than a month to Lebanon, then Turkey, took the boat to Greece, went to Bulgaria, took the train to Germany and was relocated 5 times already in the Netherlands.

They fled Aleppo.  She left 2 of her eldest children with her husband who are now in Damascus with her parents.  She has contact with them every now and then.

She told me that every morning she finds herself looking out the window thinking of the family she left behind in Syria.  I can see the fear, the sadness, the grief that is already her.

Thanaa said that she still hopes to see her family here with them in a few months.  COA and the United Nations are going to help them.  She has her Q’uran with her always.

After this war, she still wants to go back to Aleppo and live there with her family.  She said she misses home.

She even missed Shahd’s ballet lessons.

Just like that, everything has been taken away from them.

She told me that ISIS or Daesh are not true Muslims.  They are not Islam.

I told her I know, I understand.  I told her about the Abu Sayyaf terrorists from the Philippines who live just an island away from my own city.

On Saturday she said that she was happy that Shahd met Zoë.  Although her daughter is double my daughter’s age.

It was like my daughter found an older sister.  I am happy that she is learning to share.  In her own simple ways, I know she understands.  She understands.  I am proud of her.

They need help.  They need jobs.  Work.  Anything, she said.  They can clean, they can carry things.  She asked me if I can help her nephew Ahmed find a job.  They need to earn as sooner or later they have to move out of the COA paid apartment and integrate with the Dutch community.

Ahmed, however, speaks only Arabic and Turkish.  And very limited English.

Do you think we have a place for him?

We’re so lucky where we live, but we’re so out of touch. Everyone’s mindset i s made to feel that refugees are a problem, but it’s more than that. They’re human beings, too. They were forced from their homes. Sonny Bill William


For more information on COA, please see here:

PS:  Author is not connected with COA, the UN or any organization helping refugees in the Netherlands.  (She wishes she does though).


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