The recess bell rang and a flood of children ran onto the playground on a bright sunny afternoon in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon.
I smiled as I stood by the fence chatting with some of the teachers, apparently looking pretty suspect as a bunch of kids streamlined my way to figure out who the random lady on their playground was.
It was my first time hanging out at the most amazing school I have ever stepped foot in – and y’all I was a teacher who has been to many many schools – and nothing I have ever seen compares to this place.
The purpose of this school is to help Syrian refugee kids’ transition into the Lebanese school system.
The school is housed in the valley among the border mountains of Lebanon and Syria, in super simple building – an old paint factory that they converted into a school – but the classes are always so vibrant and the teachers were by far the most passionate teachers I have ever encountered in my life.
You see, the staff and teachers are also largely Syrians who came to Lebanon to escape the certain death of war in their nation. They had fled the unimaginable and they know and understand what their students have been through.
The energy in every single classroom was amazing; I have never seen so many kids fully engaged during a full 45-minute math class – seriously.
When recess hit and kids piled over with grand smiles and tons of high-fives and fist bumps to figure me out, my heart melted.
It was there that I met M, an 11-year-old girl with a serious spark in her eyes, the naturally adventurous type.
As soon as M saw me, she pushed through her classmates to introduce herself while showing off the English she had learned in school. After pointing out all her siblings to me, M was full of questions, she was awesome.
While we were talking, she saw a bit of the tattoo peeking out under my sleeve and with big eyes she took my arm, pulled up my sweater, and looked intensely at my forearm.
“Beautiful!” she said with a ton of excitement as she showed me her wrists and said “me too!”
Carved into her little wrists was an M and an R in English letters.
She was very proud of her “tattoo” as she motioned to show me that she had cut it in her wrists.“What does it mean?” I asked in broken Arabic.
“My name.” She responded.
I tried to ask her more but with our mutually limited language skills, I didn’t get too far before she grabbed my hand and pulled me over to the hot metal slide of my childhood terrors, running up it to kick all the boys off, and then asking me to join her.
I couldn’t say no, so I climbed up that the ladder to that hot, shiny piece of metal and with a lot of laughter surrounding me, I flew down with serious force and completely wiped out as M.
You know, M is clearly a bad ass, but she is also still just a kid. A kid that in her little over a decade on this planet has gone through more than most of us will know in a lifetime.
I don’t know why she cut her initials into her wrists. I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe it was an attempt to release some of the pain she may hold inside or maybe it was an effort to simply be seen in a world that is blinded by ignorance. Honestly, that thought breaks my heart into a million pieces.
No child in this universe should have to go through what millions of Syrian children have faced for years now.
The thing is, they don’t have to live a life of exclusion and unimaginable hardship – we have every resource to open our doors.
But we don’t. In our purposeful ignorance, we choose not to see these beautiful children who deserve everything. We choose not to see the amazing souls who are directly hurt because of our blatant refusal to extend love.
This March we will be heading back to Lebanon to serve, love, and learn from some of the most beautiful souls on this planet and I would like to formally invite you to come with us and have your heart changed, shattered and rebuilt, in the most amazing way.
Seriously, you are invited, shoot me an email at Sherifaye@purplehyacinths.org to learn more.