Bringing comics to heal and preserve culture in Syrian refugee camps
- 02 June 2019
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In late summer this year, refugee children in Northwestern Syria will receive an unusual aid shipment: comics. Facilitated by NuDay Syria, an NGO that sends much-needed aid to displaced families in the area, the comics are meant to serve as art therapy for the children who receive it.
The comics are provided by the Comics for Youth Refugees Incorporated Collective (CYRIC) and are based on folklore from the children’s home countries. Created by a team of mental health experts along with input from people on-site at the camps, CYRIC’s comics aim to help these traumatised and displaced children to reconnect with their homes.
CYRIC’s founder, A. David Lewis, is himself a comics and graphic novel author. He started the organisation as a way to help Syrian refugee children by preserving their cultural heritage. “Specifically, it focuses on traditional Syrian stories,” CYRIC board member Hussein Rashid explained. “It helps the children, and hopefully will aid in making sure some part of Syrian story culture persists.”
The basic theory, he said, is that children are able to engage with their trauma through art; non-verbal communication allows the children to be more expressive and begin a healing process.
“[T]he comic books will get distributed to displaced children and will most likely be the only written material they own, other than the occasional schoolbook,” Nadia Alawa, the founder and CEO of NuDay Syria, told My Salaam. NuDay Syria works to empower women and children affected by the Syrian civil war that broke out in 2011.
Referring to their experience with CYRIC, Alawa added, “It was an especially fun project to initially be part of and now partner with since these comic books historically and culturally tell the stories of so many of these kids and engage them from the first drawing. Our team, including myself, distributed some of the first books to children in Turkey, and they were excited and laughing as they read through the pages. It was a lot of fun to watch.”
Haawiyat is CYRIC’s only publication till date and was brought out in Arabic and aimed at children in the 6–12 age group; according the CYRIC website, nearly half of the Syrian refugees are under the age of 12. With Haawiyat, the CYRIC website says it “intended to return to these children something, even as small as a physical comic book, in the wake of all that has been lost or left behind.”
(Writing by Susan Muthalaly; editing by Seban Scaria firstname.lastname@example.org)
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