“I had the unfortunate luck of being born in Idleb, Syria. Years ago, I never would have said that sentence. I loved living in Syria. But after the fighting started, our lives were ruled by people carrying weapons. Basic rights and necessities, like clean water, were being taken away. People would suddenly disappear or be forced to form a human wall to protect soldiers, forcing civilians to die instead of the soldiers. At one point, most of the city fled to the countryside. About a month later, the bombing spread to the countryside too, so all the same people returned back to the city. Bombs were going off everywhere. There was no difference, no safe place, in the city or in the country.
One day, all my family was at home. A bomb fell on a neighbor’s house. Terrified, my father gathered all of us and we hid outside in the field by the trees. Then it happened another day and then another. We used to either hide by the trees or in the basement. We prayed that it would protect us.
On April 20, 2015 my mother asked my older brother to go to the market for some bread for breakfast. About five minutes later, two bombs fell on our house. Everything was destroyed. I was in the kitchen when it happened, but when I woke up, I was in the basement. I had no idea how I got there. I tried to move, but it was hard. Everything around me was dark. I felt like I was in a cave with everything wedged in with me. I felt wood and cement around me. I tried pushing it off. It took me hours to free myself and was finally able to see some light. I climbed towards it over the piles of stone that used to be my house.
As I was climbing out, I found my brother’s wife covered in blood. At first, I thought she was dead, but thankfully she was alive. Then I saw my sister stuck among the rubble. I tried pulling her out. I heard my older brother’s voice calling for us. I tried to answer him. ‘We are here’ but no one heard me. The sound of an ambulance drowned out all other noise. I called for my mother and father but still no one responded. No one heard.”
My older brother survived because he was at the market. He worked with other rescuers to free me, his wife and our sister. I have another brother with a learning disability. Somehow, he managed to escape the house with the help of our neighbors. We were taken to a small village hospital. That’s where I learned my father and mother had died. They were literally blown to pieces. The people who helped me were not able to find them in their entirety.
We stayed on a farm in Syria as we recovered. We were only four left. We heard that there were doctors in Turkey we could meet so we paid someone to help us cross the border into Turkey. We had to pay them a lot of money – more than most people because of my younger brother’s disability. It was a very difficult and dangerous journey. Each of us were only allowed to carry one light bag. It was okay with us as we didn’t have much left after our home was destroyed.
I’ve lived in Turkey for over a year now. When we first arrived, I wanted to register for school, but so many places required money for fees or transportation. We barely had enough money for food, so there was no way we could pay for school or buses. Then I heard about a community centre that offers Arabic-language education for no charge. I was so excited.
Here, at this community centre, I found a sort of home. I found friends who understand what I’ve been through. The staff are also so kind to me. The first day when I came back home I felt like I was dreaming. I had my dream come true to have such a good school. In fact, even in Syria, I’ve never had such a good school.
I can’t forget my past but I do think of the future now. Now, I want to fulfill my mother’s dream for me. I want to become a doctor.”
Abdullah attends a community centre in Antakya supported by IOM, run by Syria Social Gathering and funded by the European Union. IOM’s supported community centre in Antakya offers educational programs, legal assistance, vocational training, social cohesion activities and psycho-social support to over 23,000 Syrians living in Turkey’s Hatay province. This project is funded by the European Union.