The Turkish town of Kilis would not be many people’s idea of a getaway for the festive season. Just a few kilometres from the Syrian border, it has become a staging post for the waves of refugees trying to escape the bloody conflict there.
But over the holiday, it hosted a different kind of a visitor.
Nick Lunt, the managing director of the Middle East arm of public relations firm Instinctif Partners, sacrificed the pleasures of a family Christmas for a charitable mission to Kilis.
“Like many others, I have been watching with disbelief as the situation has gone from bad to catastrophic. I just wanted to see what might be done to help,” says Nick.
The refugees are in need of many things: clothing and shelter against the bitter winter; food and medical supplies; and of course safety and security from the murderous attacks of any one of a number of vicious armed bands.
But they also want to feel there is some hope of a better future, and one of things they see as essential to a good life is proficiency in English, the world’s universal language for education and business.
Nick is not a teacher, but – befitting for his profession – he is a silvery-tongued native speaker of the language, so he volunteered to teach the children and youngsters of the Kilis refugee community.
“I had breakfast on Christmas day with the amazing Abeer, a Syrian midwife and all-round typhoon of activity, plus two teens, children of her friends, who wanted to practice their English,” he tells me in an email.
Accompanying the email is a photograph of Nick and Abeer standing on a balcony with an ice-blue sky as the backdrop. Abeer looks a formidable woman, with a steely determination behind her smile.
In the background you can make out a smudge of smoke.
“These are the plumes following a Russian attack on two Syrian post-natal hospitals just over the border – merry Christmas from Mr [Vladimir] Putin to the 16 Syrian babies and their mothers killed in those attacks,” writes Nick.
The attacks – on the Syrian town of Azaz – were barely covered in the international media, nor were the subsequent strikes that killed more civilians. “This is the total disgrace of our century,” emails Nick.
The rest of a “shattering” day was spent with orphans keen to pick up some words in English. The pictures show what could be a rudimentary classroom almost anywhere, but the children’s stories are unbelievably sad.
“Half of the day was spent with Bushra, a 12-year-old whose father and brother were killed by the Syrian army in some random attack on their village and who took two bullets in the neck as she tried to run away,” Nick writes.
Later in the week, he was back in Gaziantep, the Turkish town that was the staging post for the humanitarian effort of charitable workers in the region.
“I was having a late lunch with two new acquaintances when news came through of the assassination of Naji Jerf. A “citizen journalist” at the blog “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Slowly”, which tries bravely to keep the outside world informed of the evil deeds perpetrated in the Daesh capital. He was shot by an unknown gunman in Turkey.
“It made me realise, with some force, how terrifyingly lethal this part of the world can be,” tweets Nick.
By the time this is published, Nick will be out of the danger zone and back in Dubai.
His Christmas mission is welcome evidence that there is some altruism in the swanky world of the spin doctors.
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