Monday, 11 July 2016

The toy smuggler of Aleppo: how one man brings joy to the faces of Syria's children

Rami Adham hands out toys in Atmeh refugee camp in northern Syria.

'For the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ended on 6 July, he brought 700 toys to a refugee camp near the northern Syrian town of Atmeh, holding 80,000 people. As he unpacked the toys at al-Rahma School, its 200 pupils formed an orderly queue, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of what Mr Adham had brought.

 “The toys make the students feel like someone cares,” said a teacher at the school, who gave his name as Bassam. His five-year-old son received a Buzz Lightyear doll from Mr Adham. “My son remembers his toy more than anything at school,” added Bassam.

 Today, about 3 million children live in camps inside Syria. The lucky ones attend school; others must work to support their families. In Atmeh, at least, the children are relatively safe. Mr Adham also takes toys to Aleppo, where his aid agency supports several children who have lost one or both parents. In June, he had to walk eight miles into the city because driving was too dangerous. Rebel-held areas of Aleppo have effectively been cut off from the outside world as the Syrian regime, supported by Russia, escalates air and artillery strikes.

 “This was my 27th visit to Aleppo since 2011, and it was the most dangerous,” said Mr Adham. “The danger we faced, the sorrow, it’s indescribable. Six of the orphans we sponsored died when I was there.”

 Having survived barrel bombs and artillery fire for three weeks, Mr Adham returned to Istanbul at the end of June. While waiting for his flight to Helsinki, he was caught up in the suicide attack on Ataturk Airport.

 “I thought I was dreaming that I was still in Syria,” he said. “It took me a while to realise a bomb had gone off not far away.”

 But Mr Adham is already making plans — and collecting toys — for his next trip to Syria. “Right now, Syrian kids are just facing death and insecurity and constant threats,” he said. “Toys are important.” '

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