This picture was painted by a Syrian refugee child. It shows a young girl in a camp where the accommodation is tents. The ground is cold and hard, and the tents have been pitched against the wind, which pushes against the back of the girl and through her hair.
The girl has placed herself in the centre of the picture. There is no other child or adult to be seen. Her figure is large and colourful, an assertion of her person against the odds.
The picture was made at an art therapy workshop called ‘Little Hopes’ run by Global Humanitaria to provide a space for refugee children to work through some of the trauma they had suffered.
In the last six weeks the adults (mostly women) and children of Idlib in Syria have been displaced, a population of 900,000 (i.e. the size of Glasgow), including 500,000 children.
Neil Gaiman constructed the following poem from words spoken by refugees.
A baked potato of a winter’s night to wrap your hands around or burn your mouth.
A blanket knitted by your mother’s cunning fingers. Or your grandmother’s.
A smile, a touch, trust, as you walk in from the snow
or return to it, the tips of your ears pricked pink and frozen.
The tink tink tink of iron radiators waking in an old house.
To surface from dreams in a bed, burrowed beneath blankets and comforters,
the change of state from cold to warm is all that matters, and you think
just one more minute snuggled here before you face the chill. Just one.
Places we slept as children: they warm us in the memory.
We travel to an inside from the outside. To the orange flames of the fireplace
or the wood burning in the stove. Breath-ice on the inside of windows,
to be scratched off with a fingernail, melted with a whole hand.
Frost on the ground that stays in the shadows, waiting for us.
Wear a scarf. Wear a coat. Wear a sweater. Wear socks. Wear thick gloves.
An infant as she sleeps between us. A tumble of dogs,
a kindle of cats and kittens. Come inside. You’re safe now.
A kettle boiling at the stove. Your family or friends are there. They smile.
Cocoa or chocolate, tea or coffee, soup or toddy, what you know you need.
A heat exchange, they give it to you, you take the mug
and start to thaw. While outside, for some of us, the journey began
as we walked away from our grandparents’ houses
away from the places we knew as children: changes of state and state and state,
to stumble across a stony desert, or to brave the deep waters,
while food and friends, home, a bed, even a blanket become just memories.
Sometimes it only takes a stranger, in a dark place,
to hold out a badly knitted scarf, to offer a kind word, to say
we have the right to be here, to make us warm in the coldest season.
You have the right to be here.
Neil Gaiman (2019) What You Need to be Warm
“Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him.’