by Julia Turner, SolidarityNow intern – trainee
“We wanted to get away from… from being so alone; and you know keep our minds busy.” Suhail is explaining how the Elef Club was set up. Six months ago, Suhail and a couple of friends approached Solidarity Now CFS Facilitators* Theo and Eleni, asking to set up a group for the teenagers of the camp to provide entertainment and to make friends with one another. The club started with a piece of paper, on which everyone wrote down what they wanted to do or what they could teach the group. That way they built activities to do everyday: “we made a schedule everyday… football, volleyball, board games…” Now the group meets daily and is a central part of its fifteen members’ lives.
The interview is as chaotic and fun as you would expect to have with a group of teenagers: dominated by excited laughing and teasing, infinite distractions as phones go off and tangential conversations take hold, and plenty of talk about girls. However, what strikes me is how earnest the boys are and how open they are about their feelings and fears. When I ask the group about their favourite activities, they initially call out specific games: “when we write the homework and play volleyball”, says Danial; “I like Jungle Speed and Dobble” says Zobair; “I like when the teacher helps me with the, you know, girly things…” says Ramin. But when Sadeq brings up the social aspect of the club, saying “I like to think that we gather around and play together”, everyone agrees. “I like that we are together and can discuss anything”, says Zobair; “And if we have a problem we can share it with anyone”, says Suhail. Theo recalls that they agreed at the beginning that they would be the solutions to their own problems. “I remember that sentence”, mulls Suhail “We will be the solutions”.
So how would the boys describe the club themselves? What are the words or feelings that the name ‘Elef Club’ conjures up for them? “When I hear Elef Club, I get happy”; “I imagine I am playing”; “Being lucky”; “Problem solver!”. And what about the members who make up the club themselves, what do they want to do in their careers? Sharoq wants to “go to Madrid to play football with Ronaldo” and he’s not the only on who wants to be a “footballist”. Others are more artistic – an astronomer and a singer are among the group; or more technical “I want to learn medical in Germany”; “I want to be a mechanic”; “Professor in MIT…in computers”. They become more adventurous when we discuss what they want to do with their lives outside their careers: “I want to create a submarine and do some research in the sea”; “I want to create a big airplane”; “I want to go around the world… in 80 days!”; “I want to help the poor people… to make Earth better”, says Zobair; “I want to love someone”, says Younnes.
Ultimately, the club offers so much more than fun activities for its members to do everyday. It bolsters their confidence by providing support through Eleni and Theo, and through the strong bonds that they have built together. “You know, in this group, we have some really good friends… and we’re not just school friends or something. We live together. It’s something so different. It’s like, they’re my brothers.”. The importance of these bonds is particularly clear when the boys describe their first day of school, which they all agree was a huge highlight of their time here: “I went out of the car, I saw the girls, I ran back!… All of us were going back, shouting ‘Go back!’ and then Danial said, ‘Let’s go guys’ and we went in front and we had to enter.” With many of the group on family reunification programmes that may see them move to other European countries, the future of the club is not certain. Nonetheless, it’s enduring importance is secured through the friendships it has helped to build: “I don’t want to say goodbye to these friends”, says Danial. Ramin nods, “I don’t want to say goodbye to my friends”.
The BlueDot program is supported by UNICEF and funded by the European Commission – Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid Operations – ECHO