I WOKE up early this morning, a beautiful autumn day, golden sunshine lighting the tranquil coastal marshes where I am staying, wondering just what the night had brought for Aleppo. Listening to the radio yesterday, I heard one resident of Aleppo describe the horror of the nights countered by the only lovely thing in the present crisis: all the lights in the city are out and the night sky can be seen clearly … beautiful sparkling stars … and millions of them.
The crisis is so ugly: Russian jets bombing hospitals, cluster bombs wreaking destruction, food scarce, children scratching around in craters looking for dirty drinking water, many dead.
Back in Coventry, my home town, the Syrian refugees continue to come – some of the 20,000 Syrian refugees promised to be taken in by 2020 under the UK government’s Vulnerable Persons Relocations Scheme.
One hardly dare ask about family members. Nearly half a million dead. Twice a week the Coventry Jesus Centre runs classes for Syrian refugees.
One student sits in a wheelchair, two legs missing from a barrel bomb. Another tells me in graphic gestures with the little English he has: ‘bomb’ ‘son’ ‘sleep’.
We keep the classes simple and try and concentrate on what our Syrian students really need to learn: giving details at a hospital reception desk; making an appointment with the doctor; buying tickets on the bus. We believe in fun and there is plenty of laughter. What they really enjoy is the interaction, the friendship, the sitting around talking; yesterday they didn’t want to leave.
On Thursday, one of the older students showed me photos of himself on his smartphone: smiling, standing proudly amongst a colourful range of flowers and vegetables in the small garden he has laid in Coventry. Maybe not the grapes and olives of Syria but he is planting anew; it’s a new life for him and he is making the most of his opportunity.
The children are playing in the back of the room where we run the class. Sometimes it’s chaotic; the noise is rising as two children fight over a toy; now one is screaming. But at the end, they go home happy. It’s not the craters of a war-torn Aleppo street where children are never safe to play and there is fighting of a horrific kind. They, like many other Syrians, have found a safe haven. It is our joy at the Jesus Centre to be a part of that.