On May 7, 2017, a group of children from Syria arrived at the Artek International Children's Center. They came to Artek, a recognized world center for children's diplomacy, to tell children from 35 other countries how Syrian children want peace and call for friendship between Artek members from different countries.
Nine young Syrians aged between 15-16 who arrived at Artek are the children of the Syrian military from Damascus killed in the fight against international terrorism. They came at the invitation of the Socio-Cultural Initiatives Foundation together with the Yunarmia (Young Army) Youth Military Patriotic Public Movement and the all-Russian public organization of veterans Combat Brotherhood.
The main goal of the Syrian children’s visit to Artek is to get involved in peaceful life and educational programs. Artek teachers will make every effort to support the children after what they have gone through, to distract them from the horrors of war and to give them new knowledge that will help them find their place in the future peaceful life in their home country.
The young Syrians will participate in the International Children Military Historical Assembly Eternal Flame 2017, which takes place in Artek from May 5 to May 25, 2017. They have already attended Victory Day celebrations and participated in the Immortal Regiment march in Sevastopol. They will hike in the mountains, enjoy fascinating marine expeditions, musical competitions, the My Family in the History of the Fatherland research project, a sports festival and even GTO physical fitness tests.
Alexei Kasprzhak, director of Artek, noted that the friendship being shaped in Artek today among children from different countries is the key to international understanding in the future: “Artek members enter into a brotherhood for life, aimed at cooperative constructive activity. I am sure that the Artek alumni will live by this principle in the future, actively participating in the life of their countries. This is the idea of Artek as the center of children's diplomacy: international cooperation grows out of children's friendship.”
Representative of the Socio-Cultural Initiatives Foundation Dmitry Vdovykh said that the Syrian children easily adapted in Artek. They are staying at the Morskoi camp, are very active and eagerly participating in all the events. They do not speak Russian, but this does not interfere with how they communicate with their peers: “They had a drawing on asphalt competition, Children for Peace. At some stage, the children started running out of certain colors of chalk. So they had to ask each other for the right color. One Russian girl, who wanted a yellow chalk, ran up to one of the Syrians and said, ‘I really need yellow,’ and the boy gave her a yellow chalk.”
The children communicate with each other in English, and their counselors, linguistics students who speak Arabic, help them. There is also an interpreter in Artek.
“We have no problem understanding each other. I already understand Russian a little. I can say ‘What's your name,’ ‘How are you,’ Good afternoon,’ and ‘Good night.’ And we also teach Russian children a little bit of Arabic,” says Jafar Ismail. ‘Most of all I remember the first day when we just arrived here. On this day we met with the guys and we made new friends. I'm glad that I came to Russia. Artek is a very beautiful camp.”
“I am very impressed by the Russian culture and the way various events are celebrated here,” his friend Muhammad Jalilah adds. “On Victory Day, we attended the parade in Sevastopol. My father died in the war when I was in fifth grade. Therefore, I was filled with pride when I laid flowers at the monument. We have become more than friends with the Russian kids in Artek. We are like one family. Every day, waking up, we say to each other, Good morning! We give each other gifts. I have a mug with Russian and Syrian flags, bracelets and other souvenirs that will remind me of Russia.”
Today, the Syrian children, together with other Artek members, have done their GTO tests, which is a new experience for them. “It’s the first time we’re having a go at this competition. Despite the results, we are glad that we participated,” Hassan Badur said.
On May 19, Artek will host the closing ceremony of the International Children Military Historical Assembly Eternal Flame 2017, where the young Syrians will represent their country at the gala events.