AIF Blog

How Refugee Children Envision the Future

Feb 03, 2017
Lina Sergie Attar spoke about her childhood in the United States and Syria during a 2016 Aspen Ideas Festival session called Art and Immigration — Culture and Dividing Lines.
When Lina Sergie Attar was 12 years old, her family moved to Syria from upstate New York. “I left my sheltered, happy American life to find a new home among family where our roots go back centuries,” she says. Her rich family history didn’t soften the blow of living in a police state. Seeing military uniforms and bowing down to authority became the norm. Mostly, she says she learned to be afraid. “I was afraid of everything and everyone, and afraid of my own voice, my ideas, and my thoughts.” She couldn’t wait to leave Syria, and she did in 1998. But then, the Syrian Civil War began.
Attar was moved by the courage of Syrians speaking up about their thoughts, ideas, and actions. “They were willing to die for freedom and dignity,” she says, “and witnessing that level of bravery was unimaginable. I wanted to be part of them.” So she launched the Karam Foundation to provides aid to Syrian families. The foundation funds sustainable development projects and education programs for Syrian refugee youth. Attar travels with her foundation twice a year to the Syrian-Turkish border to run innovative education missions that inject art and creativity into the lives of refugee kids. 
In one project, she had kids drawing the floor plans of the homes they left. “I would tell them that one day everyone will go back and rebuild Syria.” Three years later, she says she no longer draws homes of the past with the kids. Many of the children don’t remember their homes, or know anything different than growing up in a refugee camp. Now, her students draw homes and cities of the future. On a visit to the camp in 2015, she examined what the kids drew, “I stopped at a young girl’s desk and asked what the massive pointed triangles were at the edge of her city.” It was a refugee camp. It’s heartbreaking, she says, to watch children unable to envision a future without refugee camps. “That is the definition of devastation.”
Below, watch the session featuring Lina Sergie Attar from the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Related speakers: