Restore Happy: Peace and Hope Exhibit of Syrian Children’s Art

When I was around 10 or so, I decided to make my summer vacation stay with my cousins at my mom’s village by arranging an outdoor exhibit. The canvases were huge sheets of plywood we had found behind the donkey’s night rest. These makeshift paintings came alive with images of heroes from the Bulgarian struggle for independence and landscapes inspired by the hills and valleys of my childhood’s freest days.

Seeing reality through children’s eyes… and art!

I was reminiscing of that exhibit when on Friday, during my lunch break I biked down to the National Mall to take photos of the “Peace and Hope” Exhibit of Syrian Children’s Art. The idea of that exhibit was simple but profound — to make the personal connection with the innocent children suffering during the war in Syria and see their reality through their eyes and art.

I thought it would be an appropriate even if indirect response to Andréana Lefton’s invitation to discover a voice’s life story and be open to surprises in the process of discovery.

Arriving at the National Mall, I asked one of the volunteers, Dena Elian with Syria Relief and Development, to say a few words about the exhibit:

Then I strolled around, taking photos here and there and seeking a silent connection with the young artists. That the images tended to be serene, considering the circumstances of their creation, made their impact only more powerful. An hour or so later in my office, browsing the images with a Jewish coworker of mine who had visited some of the refugee camps in Jordan made us reflect on the innocent way children perceive the world. Yet, amidst the playful innocence of childhood imaginings, there were images and words clearly talking about the despair of abandonment…

I have no doubt that art has a power to heal but we cannot leave it to crayons and canvasses and acrylics to restore the happiness of these children.

This century old quote from from another humble yet distinguished resident of the Holy Land came to mind:

“Ye observe how the world is divided against itself, how many a land is red with blood and its very dust is caked with human gore. The fires of conflict have blazed so high that never in early times, not in the Middle Ages, not in recent centuries hath there ever been such a hideous war, a war that is even as millstones, taking for grain the skulls of men. Nay, even worse, for flourishing countries have been reduced to rubble, cities have been leveled with the ground, and many a once prosperous village hath been turned into ruin. Fathers have lost their sons, and sons their fathers. Mothers have wept away their hearts over dead children. Children have been orphaned, women left to wander, vagrants without a home. From every aspect, humankind hath sunken low. Loud are the piercing cries of fatherless children; loud the mothers’ anguished voices, reaching to the skies.”
‘Abdu’l-BaháSelections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Both my father and mother worked in Aleppo, Syria while I was at university so I have this personal if distant connection with that storied land. As I walked past the wind-blown canvasses I was contemplating that these children would most likely be friends with my daughters if living in the comfort of Northern Virginia. My intuition tells me that while we are far, we need to continue speaking about and befriending these souls who happen to have been born in places shaped by the shifting incursions and abandonments of the world powers. I made sure to make new friends with the ladies from the Qatar Foundation International who were kind enough to translate for me Befriended Stranger into Arabic.

Qatari / Yemeni Befriended Stranger

Qatari / Yemeni Befriended Stranger

Befriending a Qatari / Yemeni Stranger

Befriending a Qatari / Yemeni Stranger

Let’s care for each other and restore happy peace and hope

But I kept going back to the children. Would I recognize these young artists if they were nearby? Would I be able to envision them as their daily lives are disrupted by war? Would I be able to witness their inspiration and hope for restoring happiness if I were to see them in front of their canvasses?

Would I walk away if these children were mine? Guess what, they are mine and yours and of Syria and of the whole world.

Let us take care of each other, and restore happy peace and hope!

“And among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is the oneness of the world of humanity; that all human beings are the sheep of God and He is the kind Shepherd. This Shepherd is kind to all the sheep, because He created them all, trained them, provided for them and protected them. There is no doubt that the Shepherd is kind to all the sheep and should there be among these sheep ignorant ones, they must be educated; if there be children, they must be trained until they reach maturity; if there be sick ones, they must be cured. There must be no hatred and enmity, for as by a kind physician these ignorant, sick ones should be treated.”
‘Abdu’l-BaháSelections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

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